To really count success for a program like Duke’s, the quality of play must live up to its high expectations.
In Monday’s season-opener against North Carolina A&T, Duke played a solid first half before winning 77-57 despite its record-setting fouling performance.
“I'm just kind of taking the non-conference schedule, or first ten games to kind of see where people are, with so many new players. There is a kind of an exploratory phase that we're going through,” said head coach Kara Lawson following the game, which she called “a poor performance” by Duke.
The Blue Devils won the opening tip-off before wing Taya Corosdale wasted no time in scoring a quick layup. Her basket was followed by junior center Kennedy Brown and sophomore guard Lee Volker's jumpers. Ball movement was lightning quick and by the end of the game, eight different players had earned three assists apiece.
But early on, Duke (1-0) began to stumble into its bad habit of fouling. By the end of the first half, the Blue Devils had 11. By the end of the game, this number jumped to 29—the most single-game team fouls in Duke women’s basketball history.
“There's a long season—that's what I told our group after the game—there's a long season and we're not supposed to be at our best right now,” Lawson said. “But I'm going to demand their best. I'm not going to be happy if we're playing below our potential. And I just thought the second half we played below it.”
To make matters worse for the Blue Devils, where they were falling short, North Carolina A&T (0-1) was springing into action. Out of 37 free throw opportunities, the Aggies claimed 34 points—a success rate of 91.9% while making up well over half of their points.
“The first goal that we have is to try to play a complete game. And I thought we played a pretty good first half and we played a poor second half,” said Lawson. “[Our] goal, although it may sound simple, is to try to play a 40-minute game where [we’re] disciplined, where [we’re] executing on both ends, and [where you’re] able to get what you want out of the game.”
The Blue Devils' successes must be the result of dedicated effort, locked-in focus and high-precision skill. Duke does not need to win simply in name—it needs to win in performance, too.
Against North Carolina A&T, Duke’s setbacks did not have much of an affect on the outcome. The Aggies did not quite match up with the talent the Blue Devils have. However, Duke’s season is rife with games against teams that will put up more of a fight; for these inevitable battles, consistency in execution will be key.
“We've got to be better,” Lawson said. “So we have a lot of work to do. [I am] disappointed at the performance today and hopefully on Thursday, when we come back, we'll be better.”
A distribution of talent shone through Monday, with four players sharing the bulk of the team’s points and six others adding their share. Senior wing Elizabeth Balogun led the way with 15 points to her name, Brown scored 13, senior guard Celeste Taylor had 12 and sophomore guard Reigan Richardson added 11.
During the first half, energy and efficiency played in tandem with the players, who were quick to take advantage of shot opportunities and then put the ball back up if their first attempts fell short. However, the tone of the game faded from a loud symphony of success to a monotonous minor key as the swift ball movement disappeared.
“I thought we got a little stagnant offensively, which probably was due to standing on defense watching people shoot free throws, and then there's no flow to your offense,” Lawson said.
It is abundantly clear from their defeat of the Aggies that the Blue Devils are a solid team. This roster is stacked with talent and evidently exerts itself to work as a team. But there is always the danger of complacency with ultra-talented teams, when a reliance on raw ability takes precedent over practiced skill. Duke must be wary of this peril and ensure that it plays the rest of the season with discipline every minute.
The Blue Devils will be in action at home Thursday at 7 p.m. when they battle Charleston Southern.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.