After stumbling on the road at Florida State, Duke found its footing at home to take down Pittsburgh.
No. 16 Duke beat the visiting Panthers 53-44 at Cameron Indoor Stadium Thursday night, extending its home winning streak to 11 games. Though Pittsburgh headed into the matchup winless in the ACC, it did not play like a struggling team. The Panthers ultimately fell to the Blue Devils, but they continuously crept up to Duke’s lead, and while the Blue Devils ultimately had the last laugh, Pittsburgh found gaps in the home team’s elite defense.
“Our goal was to try to disrupt their rhythm as much as possible because when you watch them on film, the ball changes sides of the floor quickly,” head coach Kara Lawson said after the game. “You have to find a way to slow that down. Because if you let them keep doing that, they’re gonna find holes. I thought we did a better job of that in the second half, although we still gave up too many threes.”
With 5:19 remaining in the game, the Blue Devils (19-3, 9-2 in the ACC) led 41-34 and looked to put away the Panthers (7-15, 0-11), who had been inching closer throughout much of the second half. Duke moved around the top of the arc looking for a path past the Pittsburgh defense, when finally, junior guard Vanessa de Jesus found senior Celeste Taylor and together, they got the job done. As quickly as Taylor, who ended the night with 13 points, grabbed possession of the ball, it left her fingertips to find the net and give Duke a 10-point lead.
“Like the game is offensively—catch, make a decision quickly,” Lawson said. “Are you open? Shoot. Are you not open? Pass. Where are you passing to? Where did the ball come from? Or drive. You are asking them to make split-second decisions throughout the whole game.”
Duke led the charge from the first possession. Within 14 seconds, sophomore guard Reigan Richardson eyed junior center Kennedy Brown down low in the paint and passed the ball to the 6-foot-6 center, who hoisted it into the net.
Sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson quickly defined the beginning of the contest’s tone with three triples in four minutes to give the Blue Devils a six-point lead that Taylor swiftly extended to eight.
Then, before the first 10 minutes of play closed out, Taylor extended Day-Wilson’s efforts with a layup to make Duke’s lead 15-7. But Pittsburgh, which had yet to have a breakout possession, disrupted the Blue Devils’ defense in the closing moments with a jumper from Liatu King.
Pittsburgh, which had the last-ranked scoring defense in the ACC ahead of the game, remained aggressive, crowding the Blue Devils at the top of the arc and forcing them to pass the ball around. But Duke responded accordingly, as Heide got the ball to Day-Wilson within seven seconds and assisted redshirt junior Jordyn Oliver’s layup to extend Duke’s lead to eight with 8:58 left in the second quarter. The play brought forth continued offensive excellence in the form of layups from the Blue Devils, who propelled it to an 8-3 run which was aided by their zone offense.
“That tells me the ball was moving, that we were sharing it, that we were attacking and getting good plays for one another,” Lawson said in reference to Duke’s 11 assists.
As quickly as Duke built a 23-12 lead, Pittsburgh fought back with an 8-2 run of its own for a five-point deficit at halftime. The Panthers, who used a mix of 3-pointers and layups in the quarter, had found a way to fight back. Though Duke seemed to know its opponent, the struggles of playing a defensively sound Pittsburgh team added up inconspicuously.
The Blue Devils held the Panthers to a third-quarter scoring drought of longer than three minutes to extend their lead from five to 11, but Pittsburgh never lost its energy on defense. The Blue Devils were forced to execute with cleverness: On one play, senior guard Elizabeth Balogun stole the ball from the Panthers’ Amber Brown, whose focus appeared too fixated on the basket, and not enough on her defender. Ultimately, the slow breaths caught up to Duke, as the Panthers competed like a worthy ACC opponent.
“We had some breakdowns in our high ball screen coverage in the second half that gave them some good looks,” Lawson said. “Things weren’t perfect, but I thought their effort was really good.”
The Panthers were led by Emily Hayford with 12 points, but Duke stayed strong on the defensive side. By the start of the final quarter, the Blue Devils led 36-32, but continued their full-court press and rebounding advantage to keep the end of the game low-scoring and aggressive. The two teams combined to head to the charity stripe more times in the fourth quarter than in the other three quarters combined as Duke used a 17-point frame to defeat Pittsburgh.
The Blue Devils will next play Notre Dame Sunday at 1 p.m. in South Bend, Ind.
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