New year. Same Duke team.
After a big win over No. 6 N.C. State on the road Thursday, the Blue Devils continued their winning ways Sunday by defeating Louisville 63-56. Duke forced 17 Cardinal turnovers and was led by senior wing Elizabeth Balogun, who scored a season-high 20 points.
“This is a great week for us to go to N.C. State and win and now to beat the team that was picked to win the league,” said head coach Kara Lawson “That's a good start for us in ACC play to go 3-0.”
Sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson banked in a 3-pointer with 2:25 remaining in the contest to put the Blue Devils up 59-49. However, just like she has all season, preseason All-ACC junior guard Hailey Van Lith made big plays, including a banked triple of her own to cut Duke’s lead to 59-54. She followed with a tough floater to cut the lead to three.
In response, Balogun calmly stepped to the line and knocked down two free throws with 37 seconds remaining, and Duke (13-1, 3-0 in the ACC) was able to pull out the victory.
Louisville (11-5, 2-1) made the first big run of the second half as the Cardinals went on a 7-0 run to cut the Blue Devil lead to four with 1:53 remaining in the third quarter. The constant in the second half was Balogun, who remained calm during this run. Her ability to make shots down the stretch was vital to the Blue Devils, as the veteran was a thorn in the side of her former team. She scored the final six Blue Devil points in the third quarter, including a 3-pointer with 29 seconds remaining to extend the Duke lead to 43-38.
“She is one of our best players in chaos,” said Lawson on Balogun. Lawson explained that Balogun has a way of figuring out how to score when the play does not go to script as “she cuts or she gets the pass or she shoots the three.”
Balogun opened up the scoring in the final period with a floater and Louisville turned it over on its first possession as the Blue Devils began the quarter on the right foot.
However, Louisville did not go away quietly. A triple by junior forward Olivia Cochran with 4:38 remaining in the game cut the Blue Devil lead to 51-49. But as she has often done, senior guard Celeste Taylor made a big shot when it mattered. She followed Cochran’s triple with a 3-pointer of her own, assisted by junior center Kennedy Brown, to make the score 54-49, propelling the Blue Devils to victory.
“I thought we showed a great sense of maturity,” said Lawson. “When we needed to win and needed to make the plays, make the free throws, we were able to do that.”
Freshman guard Ashlon Jackson hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer as time expired in the first quarter to make the Duke lead 18-11. In addition, coming out of the second quarter, Jackson stole the ball on Louisville’s first possession and knocked down two free throws on the other end.
Jackson was a key player throughout the game for Duke, getting extended minutes due to an injury sustained by starter and sophomore guard Reigan Richardson. This set the tone for the contest, as Duke came out hot in the second quarter, with its strong defense forcing three Louisville turnovers in two minutes.
“Ashlon getting increased minutes is helpful,” said Lawson. “For her to be in the heat of it in the last minute in a close game is good for her. We're going to need her to play well.”
Lawson’s elite full-court press gave the Cardinals trouble all game, and the Blue Devil defense forced seven second-quarter turnovers. A Taylor triple assisted by Balogun with 5:39 remaining in the half put the Blue Devils up 25-13.
However, Van Lith willed the Cardinals back into the contest in the latter half of the quarter, scoring eight points and assisting on a 3-point basket.
Nevertheless, the Blue Devils once again connected on a buzzer-beater to finish the quarter, as Balogun finished a put-back layup as time expired. This made the score 32-24 going into halftime, ending a 9-1 Louisville run.
“Me being effective and me being aggressive is just as important as our defense,” said Balogun. “It’s just knowing I have to have the mentality every time to be aggressive on offense and defense.”
The Blue Devils started off slowly on offense, going scoreless in the first four minutes of the game. Taylor found Day-Wilson in the corner for a triple with 4:14 remaining in the first quarter, which ignited the scoring for Duke.
Duke’s calling card all season has been its ability to defend. When the Blue Devils were struggling to score early in the game, junior guard Jordyn Oliver picked off Louisville guard Chrislyn Carr and finished on the other end with a layup, and Oliver scored again in the final minute of the first quarter off of a Louisville turnover caused by the Blue Devil full court press.
“For every team we play, we emphasize defense,” says Balogun. “When we step on the court we know defense comes first … the key to the game is defense and everybody buying into the system.”
Van Lith was largely kept in check throughout the contest. Although she scored 23 points, she was 1-for-9 from behind the arc and committed four turnovers. Both Taylor and Balogun were tasked with guarding Van Lith, with Taylor getting most of the possessions down the stretch.
“Hailey’s special…she’s very skilled offensively,” said Lawson. “But by and large, I thought we were attached. Every night, [Taylor] has taken a tough defensive assignment and is giving us a chance against the top players.”
The Blue Devils finish off the week having beaten two of the top three teams in the ACC preseason poll. Next, Duke will travel to Winston Salem, N.C., Thursday to take on Wake Forest.
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Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity first-year and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.