Building a lead requires stretches of hot shooting and defensive dominance, but closing out the victory requires consistency. For the Blue Devils, winning and consistent execution are not yet synonymous.
Duke took down Northwestern with a 66-50 victory in the final ACC/Big Ten Challenge behind a big second quarter performance. With their second-straight win after defeating Iowa last year, the Blue Devils improved their record in the series to 12-3 overall. The victory also marks a milestone for Duke as it earned its first-ever win against Northwestern.
“I thought it was a pretty good first half,” head coach Kara Lawson said. “Now the challenge is to play a four-quarter game.”
Freshman Ashlon Jackson led the way with 10 points while junior Jordyn Oliver drove the playmaking with her seven assists and seven rebounds and dominated defensively with three steals. Overall, the Blue Devils shot 45.6% from the field and were helped by junior Kennedy Brown’s eight points and seven rebounds and senior Elizabeth Balogun’s eight-point, two-block evening.
Even though Duke (7-1) earned the victory, neither the Blue Devils nor the Wildcats got off to an auspicious start, with the visitors leading 6-4 after nearly seven minutes of play. Nonetheless, Duke’s signature full-court press hindered Northwestern’s game, even as its offensive execution was off the mark. It seemed as if the game was going to come down to a battle of the defenses until sophomore Lee Volker checked into the game. The guard out of Purcellville, Va., hit back-to-back baseline jumpers before quickly notching four more to bring the score to 13-6.
“I think I’m just bringing as much energy as I can,” Volker said. “I think it just happened to be in that position and that place.”
Volker’s offensive prowess ignited a fire under the Blue Devils, giving them some momentum to work with. Coming into the second quarter, Duke scored nine unanswered points to extend its lead to 22-6. Junior Vanessa de Jesus opened the scoring with a layup off a fast break before Brown got on the board with a jumper, followed by a silky 3-pointer from Jackson.
The Wildcats (4-3) finally added two baskets to their total with conversions from sophomores Caileigh Walsh and Melannie Daley. Northwestern upped the aggression on defense as the Blue Devils struggled to adapt, forcing Duke into four turnovers. The Blue Devils finally seemed to adjust as they notched ten points before the half while also keeping the Wildcats to six points in the quarter to bring the halftime score to 32-12.
Northwestern seemed to come out of the half with a vengeance with four points, but sophomore Shayeann Day-Wilson scored her first of the night off a jumper to prevent a scoring run. Brown utilized her size in the paint for two hook shots, while Jackson once again came in and connected on another three as Duke went on to extend its lead to as much as 29.
While the Blue Devils continued to add to their lead, the Wildcats went on a scoring streak late in the third with two made free throws and a 3-pointer from Walsh. Duke responded in kind with two buckets of its own to keep the Blue Devil lead at 25 points going into the fourth quarter.
While the Blue Devils maintained their lead, foul trouble became an issue as forward Mia Heide and Brown both accumulated four. Duke also had to contend with a late surge from Northwestern that saw the Wildcats convert on three-straight opportunities in a last-ditch effort to dig into their deficit. Even as Northwestern crept closer and implemented a tougher full-court press, Duke did enough offensively to keep their opponents at bay.
“We gave up 23 points and did not look like ourselves defensively,” Lawson said about the fourth-quarter. “We have a lot of work to do before we get to league play in the ACC.”
The Blue Devils will be back on the road when they face off against Richmond Sunday at 2 p.m.
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