A brief glance at box scores would indicate that Duke seems to be handling its schedule with relative ease—but a deeper look at some of the other stat columns shows that the Blue Devils have struggled with their offensive discipline as of late and is unproductive when not in transition. The question now for Duke, is whether its defense is enough to carry it to victory until it can remedy its offensive inconsistencies.
The Blue Devils finished their 58-41 victory Sunday afternoon on the road against Toledo with 19 turnovers, tying the season high Duke set against Davidson, and a 30.6% turnover percentage. Duke opened the game with several communication miscues, including a botched handoff from senior guard Celeste Taylor to sophomore Reigan Richardson that bounced out of bounds. Coming out of the subsequent timeout, Richardson and freshman guard Ashlon Jackson both thought the other planned to grab a ball mishandled by Toledo’s Justina King; junior center Kennedy Brown fouled King as she recovered and attempted a layup.
Head coach Kara Lawson noted her frustrations with some of the Blue Devils' unforced turnovers. Three came from Brown on travels, while Duke also threw several passes into empty space in the opening minutes of the contest, apparently unsettled against an active Rockets defense. But as the game progressed and the Blue Devils seemingly became complacent with their comfortable lead, a lack of discipline earned them four offensive fouls in the second half.
“Some of our turnovers were unforced,” Lawson said after the game. “Some of them were good jobs by Toledo defensively. But we had quite a few travels, we had some offensive fouls; those obviously count as turnovers, so we have to be more sound in those areas. I thought we just had an unusually high number of travels and offensive fouls than we did throwing it all around the gym. So we'll definitely have to be better at that.”
The Rockets defense also forced Duke to make several desperate attempts in the first half to avoid shot clock violations, a phenomenon which faded as the visitors gained momentum leading up to halftime. One offensive possession ended with a missed hook shot from graduate center Mia Heide, while Taylor missed an early 3-point attempt and mid-range jumper while Toledo fans counted down the final seconds of the shot clock for her in unison.
Ultimately, what stopped the Rockets—who finished with 12 turnovers—from giving the Blue Devils a run for their money was Toledo's inability to capitalize on both its own misses and Duke’s turnovers. The Rockets finished with just two points off turnovers, but had they fared similarly to the Blue Devils' earlier opponents and converted on just about half of their turnovers, the hosts could have won the game.
Similarly, Toledo had zero second-chance points on offense. Duke’s physical advantage on defense was arguably responsible for both of these outcomes, with the Blue Devils earning 33 defensive rebounds to the Rockets’ 18 and intimidating them when fighting for layups, where Toledo finished 9-for-21. Brown had a standout performance for Duke with seven defensive rebounds, a block and a steal, and her 6-foot-6 stature was a primary contributor to its size advantage in the paint on both ends.
“We really just try to play our system,” Lawson said about Duke holding Toledo to only three points in the second quarter. “We try to do it in a way that can be disruptive and a way that we can be disciplined. And that's what we try to do: just play the scheme. I thought to start the game, we were kind of off a little bit defensively, but we were able to get that rectified in the second quarter.”
Sunday afternoon was not the first instance of Duke’s defense being its highlight. Its full court press was effective in a recent contest against Davidson, while its half-court defense frustrated Charleston Southern and prevented the Buccaneers from getting the ball inside. The lingering question for the Blue Devils as they continue to navigate their nonconference schedule is whether their defense is enough for them to outlast tough opponents. Sunday’s performance bodes positively for Duke, but one might still be hesitant given its recent foul woes, including against Toledo.
After breaking the program's single-game foul record against North Carolina A&T in its season opener, Duke’s key players found themselves benched for long stretches in the second half after some irresponsible plays. Taylor missed most of the third quarter after notching her third personal foul, while Brown’s fourth personal foul landed her on the bench about halfway through the fourth quarter.
It is not likely that a team can afford to have two of its top scorers on the bench for long stretches, especially as it hits conference play—and ultimately, while Duke’s offensive inconsistency has been on the hot seat in its last few performances, it is worth asking if some of its defensive letups might leave it at risk for future losses as well.
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Leah Boyd is a Pratt senior and a social chair of The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 117.