On a cold evening in Durham, the Blue Devils turned up the heat in an impressive victory over a Power Five opponent.
Duke took advantage of Texas A&M’s poor interior presence while playing exceptional defense to claim a 71-52 victory. From the tip, the Blue Devils exploited the Aggies’ lack of size to find easy looks as the visiting team relied on the 3-point shot to overcome an early deficit. After a relatively sloppily played game at Davidson, Duke’s clean execution from the jump was a nice change for the team, which may have found its identity in its defensive dominance.
As has often been seen by Duke (4-0) this season, head coach Kara Lawson’s team opened with a full-court press which quickly caused the first two of 23 Texas A&M turnovers after allowing the first points on a transition layup on the Aggies’ second possession.
Resulting from the continued full-court pressure, aggressiveness continued to lead the way for the Blue Devils defense which in turn led to 30 points off turnovers. The lack of turnovers by the offense represented a welcome change for Lawson, especially after 20 total turnovers for the Blue Devils in their last outing at Davidson.
“I thought Duke did a really good job of never letting us feel comfortable in our offense,” Texas A&M head coach Joni Taylor said. “[They] got us into a lot of low-clock situations where we had to force up some shots.”
The Blue Devils’ size became a problem for the Aggies (2-1) on both ends of the floor early on. After opening with two made threes, eight of Texas A&M’s first 10 points came from jumpers beyond 15 feet. For Duke, it could not have been more different with 14 of its 20 first-quarter points coming in the paint or at the free-throw line.
“We only took 10 [3-pointers] because we kept putting pressure on the paint,” Lawson said. “So on nights where you're not hitting them, you can't just rely on that and say, ‘Oh, we're not making them, we're going to lose.’”
Once 6-foot-6 junior center Kennedy Brown and the starters checked out of the game for the Blue Devils, Duke’s early eight-point lead was cut to four as Texas A&M center Aaliyah Patty quickly added a layup and two free throws. Soon after, Duke sprinted away on its home court.
The Blue Devils’ size could be noticed in the backcourt as well, especially in 5-foot-11 Celeste Taylor’s display of her slashing skills en route to a 11-point first half before finishing with a 14-point double-double. Duke’s 40 points in the paint compared to the Aggies’ 18 also helped get the Blue Devils to a 40-24 halftime advantage before stretching the second-half lead to as much as 27.
“Our guards know that if they get in the lane and they feel like they have an advantageous matchup, they can post and a lot of our sets allow for that,” Lawson said. “We'll look to take [an] advantage wherever we can get it.”
Although Taylor missed two free throws to start the second half, the senior guard continued leading Duke’s offense, knocking down the team’s first and only 3-pointer of the night with 7:03 left to play in the third quarter. Texas A&M’s offense continued to put pressure on Duke but the Blue Devils answered the call. Quickly responding to an Aggie 3-pointer, Shayeann Day-Wilson added her lone field goal of the night on an and-one drive to the cup which she followed with a slick nod to the bench.
The second quarter began slowly for both squads with six-straight missed field goals until Taylor opened the scoring at the charity stripe. After a few minutes of slowed-down scoring, Brown’s return to the paint gave Duke a helpful boost inside the arc as a flurry of layups and free throws stretched the Blue Devil lead to 13 with 5:45 on the clock.
“It's just being aggressive from the jump, pressuring them,” Duke senior forward Elizabeth Balogun said. “That was one of the reasons that got us the lead.”
Like during the first half, the Aggies struggled to make headway inside the paint, relying on their 50% success on the outside shot to get back into the game. In the same vein, Duke took advantage of weak interior defense to keep its own offense flowing toward the rim.
If anything, Duke’s impressively sound full-court defense exacerbated the Aggies’ size woes as they could not run efficiently in transition. Before students start to trickle out ahead of Thanksgiving, the Blue Devils sent a clear message in their last outing in Cameron Indoor Stadium until December.
Duke travels to play Toledo after two days of rest to look to extend their undefeated start to five games.
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