Duke came into Cameron Indoor Stadium Sunday afternoon looking to bounce back after a difficult loss at North Carolina. Despite a few rocky points, the squad from Durham came out on top.
The 13th-ranked Blue Devils got off to a slow start, ending the first quarter down 15-10 with six turnovers while shooting 35.7% from the field before righting the ship in the latter part of the second quarter. Duke held on through the third quarter and finished strong, walking out of Cameron Indoor with a 62-50 win. Duke was led by a dynamic guard duo in sophomore Shayeann Day-Wilson and senior Celeste Taylor, who dropped 16 and 15 points, respectively.
“[The game] was just one of those grinded-out games. I mean, we would get separation and then we couldn't get more separation. [Syracuse] would come back,” head coach Kara Lawson said after the game. “They kept fighting, give credit to them. We just couldn't get a comfortable amount of separation.”
Despite a valiant effort from Syracuse, the Blue Devils (17-2, 7-1 in the ACC) managed to pull away late. Some quick steals and improved ball management allowed Duke to control the pace of the game late, slowing down the aggressive Orange attack. A pull-up jump shot from Taylor expanded the lead to 56-46 with just under 1:30 left, and the Orange (13-7, 4-5) never managed to get back into the game.
Like many games this season, the Blue Devils came to life in the second quarter. They cut the lead down to four early on a triple from Day-Wilson, and from there Toronto native exploded. After some back-and-forth scoring that left Duke down 22-19, a dime from Taylor set up another quick three for Day-Wilson, and just like that, Duke had tied the game at 22-22.
By the end of the first half, the Blue Devils had built a five-point advantage, leading 29-24 at the buzzer. Duke scored an impressive 19 points in the second quarter alone, largely due to its shooting an impressive 60% from behind the arc. Day-Wilson and Taylor combined for 15 of those 19 points in the second period.
“[Day-Wilson] has seen substantial growth on the defensive end, running a team. She can shot-make,” said Lawson. “I thought she started the game off competitive and ready to go.”
Duke continued to ride its second-quarter momentum into the latter half of play, going on an early run to expand its cushion to as many as 13 points. But in the second half of the third quarter, the Blue Devils struggled to hold on. Syracuse heated up and began to narrow the lead, also drawing fouls and forcing Taylor to momentarily exit the game. By the end of the third quarter, the Blue Devils were holding on, but not by much. When the buzzer sounded, the home team led 43-37.
Duke continued to struggle in the beginning of the fourth quarter, as turnovers and missed shots cut the Blue Devil lead down from six points to four and, at some points, all the way down to two.
Taylor proved key in the win late, putting up six points on 3-of-3 shooting in the fourth quarter along with two steals and a block. She appeared to be everywhere on the floor, picking the ball out of the air on defense and directing the Duke attack.
The Blue Devils struggled to get moving early in this game and at times allowed what was a feisty Syracuse team back into what might have become a dominant win for Duke at various points in the second half. Ultimately, Duke proved again that it can close out tight games late.
“You can't choose your style of win,” said Lawson. “I'm just trying to win, whatever it takes.”
The Blue Devils will have another chance to prove themselves against a ranked opponent Thursday at 8 p.m., when No. 12 Virginia Tech comes to town.
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