Snakes are known for their ability to slowly but surely kill by squeezing the life out of their prey. During this method of constriction, the strength of the prey is diminished, and the snake gradually wears them down, making it easier for the final kill.
No. 16 Duke demonstrated this strategy against Clemson, as the Blue Devils emerged victorious 66-56 from a valiant second-half effort. This game exemplified a model for Duke to win down the stretch of games by wearing down opposing offenses using its stifling defense and depth to force mistakes as teams become winded.
“It's our hope every game, that in the fourth, our depth does start to wear on people,” said head coach Kara Lawson after the game. “We do feel like over the course of the game, our full-court pressure can create chances for us.”
Although the defense was not terrible in the first half, the Blue Devils shifted into a whole new gear in the second half. Turnovers from Clemson were plentiful and Duke cut down on Tiger second-chance points, only allowing four offensive rebounds in the half.
“I was more proud of their second half than I was the first half … I thought we played with a little more fire,” said Lawson.
The beginning of the fourth quarter was the point when Duke flexed its defensive prowess on the Tigers. Clemson did not score until the 5:01 mark and committed four turnovers in these first five minutes. Much of this was due to sophomore guard Reigan Richardson, who forced three steals in Duke’s signature full-court press.
“Reigan has a great instinct on defense, and in our pressure, she's got just a good frame,” said Lawson. “She can anticipate and time things, so I did think she came up with some good steals.”
The depth of this Duke team is no secret. Having 11 players averaging double-digit minutes per game is extremely impressive. Moreover, the ability of any one of those players to contribute in a big way is what makes the Blue Devils so dangerous.
This game was no different. Junior guard Vanessa de Jesus hit two massive 3-point baskets in the first half, finishing with 11 points. She was a key facilitator for the Blue Devils down the stretch, running the offense through Clemson’s equally aggressive trapping and press. Reserve center Mia Heide also produced offensively, scoring six points in the half.
In addition to offensive production, with the constant fresh legs that Duke rotates on a consistent basis, opponents are given the difficult task of scoring against one of the best defensive teams in the country.
Duke’s defensive ability has been well documented and the ability to stifle opposing offenses has been a large part of its 15-1 start. However, albeit in flashes, the Blue Devils demonstrated their ability to move the ball on offense and not rely solely on their defense to create scoring opportunities.
On the opening possession of the game, senior guard Celeste Taylor knocked down a triple from a pass by fellow senior Kennedy Brown. Less than two minutes later, Brown found Richardson cutting for a layup on a perfectly executed fast break.
After a fairly cool first half, in which they shot 33% from behind the arc and 35% from the field, the Blue Devils focused on moving the ball and executing in their half-court offense to extend their lead.
Duke heated up from distance in the second half, opening with three triples from Taylor, sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson and freshman guard Ashlon Jackson. After only scoring two points in the first half, senior wing Elizabeth Balogun knocked down two 3-pointers in the third quarter to stop a Clemson run. All of Duke’s five third-quarter triples came off of assists, as the Blue Devils successfully broke Clemson’s matchup zone defense through sharp passing.
“We would shoot good in practice so I felt like it would come around,” said Lawson. “I think we have multiple players on the floor that can make threes.”
If the Blue Devils can shoot like they did in the third quarter, with their top-notch defense, they can continue their streak and have a say in this season’s story come March. The issue for this team is whether it can play four consistent quarters of basketball night in and night out, but the bottom line is that Duke continues to win in the ACC—definitely not an easy feat.
“I'm proud of them because five times they've had a game against a good team and five times we've come out on top,” said Lawson.
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Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.