DAVIDSON, N.C.—When we remember basketball games, it is easy to conjure up the flashiest plays and the big-time baskets in clutch moments. However, it is the fundamental skills that decide which team goes home victorious and which one hangs its heads in defeat.
While the Blue Devils earned a 60-37 win on the road Saturday against Davidson, their basics were put to the test. Despite a second-half resurgence to get the victory, they could not find a way to consistently rise to the occasion.
“We were trying so hard to make the right play very quickly, at the beginning, right away,” said head coach Kara Lawson after the game. “And when you’re playing against teams, defensively you can’t always get it right away, you have to work the ball around, and you have to be patient, and then you have to wait for the opportunity.”
From the opening whistle, it seemed as if Duke was just one step behind. While both teams were playing solid defense in a full-court press, the Blue Devils had one unforced turnover after another. Senior guard Celeste Taylor lobbed it straight out of bounds after missing her target in junior center Kennedy Brown, only for sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson to lose the ball on the dribble or pass the rock into the waiting hands of a Wildcat defender. Quite frankly, it felt as if Duke was tripping over its own feet with play that was consistently off: off-target, off-kilter and off-tempo. Overall, the Blue Devils notched 14 turnovers in the first half alone, which equaled their total from their exhibition win against Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
In general, a team normally characterized by its spirit and sharpshooting on offense did not seem to be on the same wavelength. During the rare opportunity when Duke was able to settle the ball and run a play, the finishing was not on point. Junior guard Jordyn Oliver pulled up for a midrange jumper and could not find her target. Brown, despite her impressive 6-foot-6 height, was unable to convert down low. Taylor and freshman guard Ashlon Jackson would step back for a three only to find their aim was not quite what it needed to be to get the job done.
“We were just sped up and played a little bit hurried,” said Lawson. “We were just trying too hard, and we made some mistakes.”
From a defensive perspective, the Blue Devils continued their discipline and pressure, but Davidson proved lethal from the 3-point line. Coupled with their sloppy mistakes, Duke kept the Wildcats in the game, garnering a meager seven-point advantage at the half to lead 26-19.
It was not until midway through the third quarter that the Blue Devils finally found their spark in Shayeann Day-Wilson. After coming off the bench in the 26th minute following a lackluster first-half showing, the reigning ACC Freshman of the Year lit a fire beneath her team that refused to burn out. From the moment Day-Wilson checked into the game, the Blue Devils went on a 14-point scoring run to widen the gap to 45-25. For her part, Duke’s hero and offensive engine contributed 12 points and three assists on the day.
“[Day-Wilson] has been one of our most important players,” said Lawson. “I thought in the second half, she ran the team really well and looked for opportunities to aggressively score herself. And that’s what we’re gonna need from her.”
Day-Wilson’s commanding presence seemed to awaken the offensive team we have come to know. Slowly gaining their confidence, the Blue Devils closed out the game with 15 more points for a combined total of 34 scored in the second half. Perhaps more impressive is the defensive performance—Duke held Davidson to six and 12 points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. Finally, the newly revived squad seemed to fire on all cylinders with its fundamentals and good court-vision earning it the win.
“I thought in the second half, we settled down a little bit and we’re more patient,” said Lawson. “It’s hard to play on the road, but it’s good to come away with the win.”
Heading into Thursday matchup against a more notable adversary in Texas A&M, the Blue Devils will have to be better in their ball-handling and play off the glass. Nonetheless, for a team that is only three games into the season, the potential and talent are there. Especially with Duke’s deep bench and the right combination of veterans and newcomers, a consistent mastery of the fundamentals would make this team lethal. As the team crosses paths with stronger squads, it will need to do the little things right in order to keep winning.
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