Day-Wilson, No. 16 Duke women's basketball close out No. 12 Virginia Tech for crucial ACC win

Shayeann Day-Wilson in the first half of Duke's top-20 matchup against Virginia Tech at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Shayeann Day-Wilson in the first half of Duke's top-20 matchup against Virginia Tech at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Oh, how the times have changed. 

The last time Virginia Tech traveled to Durham, the Hokies came back to trounce Duke after the home side built an 80% win probability, according to ESPN. In the teams’ first matchup since, the result could not have been any more different. 

No. 16 Duke took down No. 12 Virginia Tech 66-55 in a hotly contested ACC matchup Thursday night. Sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson led the way for Duke with 18 points, and nine of the 10 Blue Devils to play added points in the box score. After limiting star senior center Elizabeth Kitley to four points on 1-of-9 shooting, Duke remained undefeated at home. 

“It's another good win for us. I'm proud of the group,” Duke head coach Kara Lawson said. “We just keep finding ways [to win].”

Entering the fourth quarter with the Blue Devils (18-2, 8-1 in the ACC) leading 41-40, the energy was palpable in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Graduate forward Taylor Soule added yet another bucket for the Hokies (16-4, 6-4) with a shifty spin move, and Mia Heide continued her fight against Kitley—the ACC Preseason Player of the Year—with an and-one of her own. 

“Basketball is a game of runs,” Heide said. “We knew we had to take care of [Kitley] on both ends in order to have a good outcome.”

While Blue Devil senior Celeste Taylor (eight points) did not keep up her usual scoring output, her vision was on full display in this one, highlighted by a sensational lob pass to Elizabeth Balogun for the finish. With the layup, Duke stretched its lead to 48-42, its largest since the 2:28 mark in the second quarter. 

For Lawson’s squad, the fourth quarter was all about balance as six different Duke players added to their team’s total. Perhaps the most impressive of the buckets was a Reigan Richardson turnaround jumper that resulted in a roar from the standing student section. 

“I thought Taya [Corosdale] and [Heide] were unbelievable,” Lawson said. “Those two players started almost their whole career at their old school, so they're capable.”

To close the game, Duke fell back on its identity: suffocating defense. After a bail-out foul call with the Hokie shot clock expiring, the Blue Devils responded with 20 more seconds of defense to force a shot-clock violation. On the next possession, Balogun answered with a shot-clock-beating layup of her own to put Duke up 58-46, and it seemed as if that was all she wrote in Durham. 

“[Our defense is] supposed to make it hard to get into the paint,” Lawson said. “The paint can be a difference-maker in games.” 

The Blue Devils came out of the gates hot: A Richardson jumper with the shot clock expiring, followed by a Day-Wilson three and then Taylor finding a cutting Kennedy Brown, gave Duke a 7-0 lead within the first three minutes.

While the first quarter provided an offensive display, the start of the second quarter could not have been any different. The Hokies started 0-of-2 from the field with a turnover, while Duke matched by missing its first three field goals and turning the ball over once.

At the second-quarter media timeout, the Hokies were shooting 2-of-7 with two turnovers and zero assists in the quarter. Yet, as the fouls and missed shots piled up for Duke, the Hokies stayed within striking distance. The Blue Devils ended the half on a 2:52 scoring drought, and after a 6-0 run, Virginia Tech trailed just 34-32 at the break. 

“[Virginia Tech is] a team that's a force to be reckoned with in the [ACC],” Lawson said. “They're going to be a team that's a force to be reckoned with in March.”

In the first half, Virginia Tech’s Kayana Traylor and Soule added seven points apiece; however, Duke held Kitley to a mere two points on 1-of-5 shooting. 

“We had some good plays where we had weak side help,” Lawson said. “We forced a lot of those lobs [into turnovers].”

Clearly a point of emphasis from Lawson, Duke’s center tandem of Brown and Heide fronted Kitley, frustrating the 6-foot-6 star who entered Thursday’s matchup averaging 18.7 points per game. 

“We just wanted to make things as difficult as we could, [Kitley] is the ACC Player of the Year, she's an unbelievable player,” Lawson said. “We tried to stay disciplined within our scheme. Our goal was to make catches really difficult, and then to make her take contested shots.”

After a 16-point performance against Syracuse, Day-Wilson kept her strong offensive play going. The sophomore went on a 7-2 Duke run by herself with a pair of midrange jumpers and a three midway through the first quarter. 

Just as Lawson gave Day-Wilson a rest, another Duke guard entered the fray with a bang: Vanessa de Jesus tallied seven points, including a skillful finish at the rim that earned a nod of approval from her head coach. Entering the second quarter, Duke led the Hokies 23-17, the most first-quarter points for the Blue Devils since they defeated Charleston Southern 111-50 Nov. 10. 

“[De Jesus] gives us another playmaker that can make shots,” Lawson said. “Obviously, I had her in the end to shoot free throws because she's an efficient free throw shooter for us.” 

To start the second half, cold offense carried over from the second quarter as 1-of-8 shooting from the Hokies and 1-of-4 for Duke highlighted an ugly first five minutes. Offensive struggles persisted throughout the quarter, and neither the Blue Devils nor the Hokies could make a run.

However, in the last minute of the third, a Richardson layup and Heide post-move finish gave Cameron Indoor all the energy it needed as fans rose to their feet to close the third quarter.

“It was great to have our students come out and support this team,” Lawson said. “I don't think you can watch our team and not like how they play.”

Next up for the Blue Devils is No. 24 Florida State at 2 p.m. Sunday in Tallahassee, Fla.


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