'Building good habits': In historic win at Boston College, Duke women's basketball's defense steals the show

Jordyn Oliver (11) tied a season-high with 10 points in Duke's win at Boston College.
Jordyn Oliver (11) tied a season-high with 10 points in Duke's win at Boston College.

There is a point at which greatness transcends great and becomes something the likes of which we have seldom seen before. It is no longer simply “another,” but one that stands alone in history. No. 9 Duke, in its milestone 1,000th win Thursday evening at Boston College, has crossed that point with a defense that has become one of the best the program has ever produced.

Just this Sunday, Duke went into South Bend, Ind., and pounded a top-10 team in the nation, holding the No. 2 scoring offense in the ACC to just 52 points. It was a statement win on a gargantuan scale, putting the conference on notice as the Blue Devils rose alone to the top spot in the standings. 

So, had Duke been a little sloppy going into the second of back-to-back road games after such a big win, it would have been reasonable, as even great defenses are susceptible to slip-ups. The Blue Devils, however, did what great defenses do and double-downed on their statement win with an even more impressive outing, stamping in a week of peak Duke basketball.

“In some cases if you don't back up a win, it's almost like it erases it,” said Lawson after Thursday’s 68-27 win at Boston College. “... We've just tried to, after big wins or even after losses this year, tried to say, ‘Hey, bounce back next game. Let's stack some wins together, not just have them be isolated in the schedule.’”

Against Boston College, Duke not only became one of 24 teams to reach 1,000 wins, but it also became one of two to hold its opponent to as few as 27 points in an ACC game. This topped the Blue Devils’ 74-31 shutdown of Austin Peay in December 2022 and marks the fifth-fewest points scored by a Duke opponent all-time. The defensive masterclass peaked in the third quarter, when the Eagles shot just 1-of-13 from the field, the worst in the third quarter by a Duke opponent all-time.

The historic outing is a culmination of a Duke team that has had pride in its defense all season long. Performances like the Blue Devils’ 70-57 loss at Florida State and their earlier 61-56 loss at North Carolina, impeded on their identity. Lawson has instilled a mindset within her team that, despite Duke’s defensive dominance from the start, its defensive potential had yet to be reached. Thursday night was its magnum opus and a glimpse at that full potential.

“You want to keep building good habits,” said Lawson. “No matter who's in the game, no matter what the margin is, if you're up or if you're down, build good habits, keep trying to put solid possessions together.”

Consistently building these good habits is why the Blue Devils have racked up defensive numbers that put them in a class of their own. They have given up an astonishingly low 50.7 points per game this season. Calling that the best in the ACC does not do them justice, as the 7.3-point gap between Duke and the second-best scoring defense, Virginia Tech, is larger than the six-point gap between the Hokies and Louisville, the No. 11 scoring defense. The Blue Devils also top the conference in opponent field goal percentage, are second in opponent 3-point percentage and second in turnover margin. 

The list goes on. However, the best evidence is the film. Turn it on, and you will see intensity and physicality that is unrivaled. Every night, Lawson’s team has stepped onto the floor with toughness. It is that toughness that will keep Duke’s defense thriving through the rest of the season and into March, and if this last week is any indication, this team could be in for a finish for the ages.


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