TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—It was bound to happen eventually.
This year, No. 16 Duke has struggled with slow starts. Oftentimes, it has not mattered. The Blue Devils turn up the intensity in the second half and usually end up leaving with a win. Such has been the case against Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and a number of other teams.
There are a lot of potential reasons for tough first halves. Perhaps head coach Kara Lawson’s halftime speeches are just that inspiring. Perhaps it takes time to acclimate to the defensive schemes of tough ACC opponents. Regardless, it has not been much of an issue for Duke.
On a gray Sunday afternoon in Tallahassee, that sluggish start mattered. The Blue Devils could not seem to find their rhythm, struggling the entire game to get the ball in the hoop or make meaningful stops. Duke shot a meager 24-of-61 from the field in a 70-57 defeat against the 24th-ranked Seminoles.
“Our players have to be ready to push through when they have a bad possession or a bad quarter or bad half. So yes, our starting group did not play well,” said Lawson after the game. “And we're challenged to win games if those five players don't play well.”
Duke struggled throughout the game, never seeming to truly get its feet under it. Star players Celeste Taylor and Shayeann Day-Wilson both floundered, scoring three and zero points through the first three periods of play, respectively.
Florida State, on the other hand, walked onto the court with a purpose after a tough loss to No.7 Notre Dame. While their shooting clip was not spectacular, sitting at just 26.4% from the field, free throws made the difference Sunday. The Seminoles shot 32 of them and made 20. Sophomore forward Makayla Timpson shot 15 free throws herself.
“[Timpson] kept getting those rebounds, second chance opportunities and the other thing I thought she did well was draw fouls,” said Lawson. “Getting to the free throw line 15 times, it shows her work effort in the game to continue to attack the glass and continue to attack the rim and she was definitely a difference-maker.”
With the starting five struggling, the Blue Devil bench played a bigger role in the offense. Junior guard Vanessa de Jesus put up nine points, and Jordyn Oliver added six. While Day-Wilson led the team in scoring with 14 points, every single one came in the fourth quarter, when the game was, for all intents and purposes, already over.
The other strong offensive performance for the Seminoles came from freshman phenom Ta’Niya Latson, who is averaging the most points per game in the ACC and leads all freshmen nationally in scoring. She piled on 15 points, shooting at a solid 6-of-14 clip.
At the end of the day, this was a near-total domination by Florida State. The Blue Devils led for just 20 seconds, and at no point looked like they were in control. The Seminoles broke what has been at times a suffocating full-court press without much difficulty, controlling the pace of the game and running the floor. Timpson played a big role in that press-break, too.
“What I was most proud about was attacking their full-court press,” said Seminole head coach Brooke Wyckoff. “[Timpson] was a huge part of that and she was able to get the ball and we saw her go coast to coast and score.”
This game was, in some ways, the result of how Duke has played all season. The Blue Devils have been a second-half team, and they could not get their attack going in that latter period Sunday afternoon. Lawson runs her team hard, usually employing physically taxing full-court presses and bringing the fight to her opponents.
On Sunday, the Blue Devils got burned. Duke was on a relatively short two-day rest after pressing the entire game against Virginia Tech, and Florida State took advantage of the Blue Devils early. From there, the Seminoles just had to keep pace. Duke outscored them in the fourth, but only by four points, not nearly enough to bring itself back into the game.
Duke will have more time to rest, not returning to action until Thursday when Pittsburgh comes to town. That weekend, the Blue Devils will have another chance to prove themselves against a top team Sunday when they visit Notre Dame. Until then, it will be time for rest, recovery and planning.
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