Thirty-seven, 44, 41.
The last three times Duke had taken the court, it scored these three amounts. On Saturday night, the Blue Devils surpassed all of those totals — in the first half.
No. 3-seed Duke defeated No. 14-seed Iona 89-49 in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils’ depth was on display, as four players scored in double figures and three more recorded eight points. Seniors Celeste Taylor and Elizabeth Balogun led the way with 13 points apiece and juniors Kennedy Brown and Jordyn Oliver each scored 10.
“I thought all of our players that played tonight were really locked in to what we were trying to do and that's what you hope for as a coach in March,” said head coach Kara Lawson. “It's definitely a luxury to have as a coach to have as many players as I do that are capable of impacting the game.”
The second quarter was when Duke really gained its separation, outscoring Iona 25-6. To open the period, two turnovers led to layups by freshman guard Ashlon Jackson and Oliver.
In the entire quarter, Iona coughed up eight turnovers while only scoring three field goals. Out of the 25 Blue Devil points scored, 20 were on layups, showing how effectively Duke was able to get in the lane and finish.
“Coach always believes in us; she always told us throughout the whole year that we're a confident team, that we can score on offense,” said Oliver.
The Blue Devils have been great at forcing turnovers all season, however, the difference Saturday was their ability to score off of these turnovers. Part of this was the nature of the takeaways, as open-court turnovers led to fast-break opportunities.
During the ACC tournament, fast-break execution was an issue, but the Blue Devils cleaned that up Saturday night. In the aforementioned previous three games, Duke scored a combined four fast-break points. Against Iona, the Blue Devils recorded 14.
Everything seemed to be falling for Duke. On a fast break with one minute remaining in the first half, sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson was not immediately able to gather a Taylor pass for what would have been an easy layup. However, she stepped back and knocked down a triple, the only one of the half for the Blue Devils. Duke took this momentum and strode into the locker room with a 47-16 lead, outscoring Iona 32-14 in the paint and 24-6 off of turnovers.
“I feel like most of the year we've generated quality transition opportunities and there have been some games where our conversion rate was very low,” said Lawson. “It was nice to see them have really good success in the transition game tonight, those points there really helped us on the offensive end.”
Iona changed its defense to a zone in the second half to try and slow down the Blue Devil attack, but to no avail.
Duke adjusted, continuing to push the ball. Even when the Gaels did manage to set up their defense, the Blue Devils spread the floor and connected from deep. Taylor came alive in the third, knocking down two triples and scoring eight points.
It was evident that the message this week was to create additional movement on the offensive end, both off the ball and on. Duke had multiple cutters to the basket on every possession, and this was reflected in the assist numbers and points in the paint.
The Blue Devils had 22 assists in the contest, its most since a Dec. 4 victory against Richmond. Perhaps more impressively, 10 different players recorded an assist.
Duke’s last possession of the third quarter was a microcosm of the game. While the Blue Devils missed two 3-pointers, graduate forwards Mia Heide and Taya Corosdale each recorded offensive rebounds. On Duke’s third attempt of the possession, Heide received a pass and found a cutting Corosdale for a layup, extending the Blue Devil lead to 71-34.
Although Duke connected on a majority of its buckets, with a field-goal percentage of 58.5%, offensive rebounds were a very successful area for the Blue Devils. Duke grabbed 18 offensive rebounds and marked its season high in second-chance points with 25.
Duke ran away with the contest, and the final quarter provided its share of fireworks. After Balogun knocked down a triple to open the quarter, Day-Wilson threw a no-look pass to Taylor in the corner where she connected on her third 3-pointer of the game, putting an exclamation point on a successful offensive outburst for the Blue Devils.
From the opening tip, Duke came out with an emphatic statement. The game started with a Taylor layup and on Iona’s first defensive possession, the Blue Devils forced a turnover.
Lawson’s signature full-court press forced another Gael turnover on their following possession, and a Kennedy Brown jumper with 7:47 remaining in the first quarter made the score 8-0, forcing Iona head coach Billi Chambers to call a timeout.
Brown was a key offensive presence in the contest, recording four assists and grabbing three offensive rebounds. She also demonstrated her versatility, knocking down multiple mid-range jumpers.
“[Brown] is one of our best passers, you can see we play through her a lot. Because she's very, very gifted at anticipating … she sees the game very well,” said Lawson.
The Gaels bounced back, and two backdoor cuts sliced Duke's lead in half in a matter of minutes.
However, the Blue Devils responded with what they do best— forcing turnovers leading to buckets. Duke forced five first-quarter Iona turnovers and scored nine points off of these, ending the quarter with a 22-10 lead and never looking back.
“Our defense throughout the year has been something that we put our hat to and we keep trying to get better and better,” said Oliver.
Duke will face No. 6-seed Colorado in Cameron Indoor for the second round of the NCAA tournament Monday.
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