While Blue Devils hunkered down Thursday night to study for upcoming exams, Duke faced its own final: one last home game before conference play begins in a few weeks. The team aced the test, earning itself an A-plus against Austin Peay.
Duke met the Governors in Cameron Indoor Stadium for a blowout game that ended 74-31 in the host’s favor. For the Blue Devils, it was a 40-minute showcase, as players cycled on and off the court to exhibit the team’s strengths in sharing the ball and capitalizing in the paint.
“For the most part, we had another solid defensive performance,” said head coach Kara Lawson after the game. “We continue to play really hard on that end, and that pleases me. I think it’s becoming something that we are versus something that we can do from time to time. I think we are a good defensive team.”
Blue Devil pressure was evident from the get-go. Junior center Kennedy Brown took the tipoff, sending the ball immediately to senior guard Elizabeth Balogun. Though Balogun’s first scoring attempt was interrupted by a travel, she quickly recovered, stealing the ball from the Governors (3-5) and banking a fast-break layup to put Duke’s first two points on the scoreboard. Before the first minute of the game had elapsed, the Lagos, Nigeria native had claimed two more makes along with an and-one, giving Duke (9-1) a speedy 7-0 lead.
“I thought if we could get her the ball on the interior,” said Lawson, “she could convert—and that's what happened in those first six points of the game. [Balogun] just got in there and finished.”
After seven minutes, Duke stood at 14-0. Three minutes later, the Blue Devils had put two more balls through the hoop as the Governors still struggled to land their first. Though they could not seem to rack up any points, the Governers committed five team fouls and 12 turnovers in just 10 minutes. Eventually, the buzzer sounded, Austin Peay still scoreless. For the first time in program history, Duke had shut out its opponent for an entire quarter.
Two minutes into quarter two, the Governors got their first basket in the form of a fast-break layup from graduate guard Yamia Johnson. From there, the Blue Devils regained and then maintained their control of the game, adding 18 more points to their first-half total; Austin Peay, on the other hand, sped up its game, sliding into double digits with 11 points by the end of the half.
Because of Duke’s early lead, Lawson was able to play a deep bench—14 players saw the court, with all but three of them putting points on the scoreboard in a tribute to a talented team.
“We have a lot of talent,” Lawson said. “They're all competing and they're all working to earn minutes. And so when the game dictates that we can play everybody, we will.”
The first half closed with back-to-back layups from junior guard Vanessa de Jesus, who drove through a pack of Governor defenders to the basket. As the buzzer sounded to welcome halftime, de Jesus landed her shot right off the backboard to give Duke a 36-11 lead.
By the second half, it became clear exactly how the Blue Devils were going to win: in the paint. Fifty-two of 74 points for the home team came from the paint; with its steep height advantage and catalog of players willing to drive, Duke settled comfortably into its spot in the royal blue box around the basket.
Leading these efforts was Balogun, whose stellar performance only began with her opening shots. The 6-foot-1 wing was on fire, scoring 16 points in 15 mintues. She recorded season-highs in both field goals and in steals, of which she snagged five—a third of Duke’s 15.
“I've been here before; I've done this four years in a row… I know what it looks like and what is coming,” said Balogun.
As the final minutes of the third quarter ticked away, the Blue Devils displayed their passing proficiency with a half-court lob from a running de Jesus to speedy sophomore guard Reigan Richardson, who put up another clean layup. The sophomore guard put up another one just moments later, as Taylor stole the ball and plowed her way toward the Governors’ basket. Rather than taking the bucket for herself, Taylor passed to Richardson, once again exhibiting Duke’s inclination to play as a team.
“Reigan’s another player that can give us consistency offensively and that can attack and really score … and [de Jesus] coming off a season-high performance against Richmond—she's someone that's shot the ball well for us,” said Lawson.
More Blue Devils had the chance to experience this togetherness in the final minutes of the game as Lawson went to Duke’s bench. Graduate student Imani Lewis and freshmen Emma Koabel and Shay Bollin took the opportunity; after mere seconds in action, Bollin put up a jumper to drive home the point: Duke is deep.
The Blue Devils next see the court Sunday against Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers, Fla., for their last game before ACC play.
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Sophie Levenson is a Trinity sophomore and sports features editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.