GREENSBORO, N.C.—Duke’s last dance in the ACC wasn’t the one it wanted.
After conquering North Carolina in the quarterfinals Friday, No. 2-seed Duke fell hard against No. 3 Virginia Tech Saturday afternoon 58-37 in the ACC tournament semifinals. Both teams were slow to start, but it was ultimately the Hokies who took control of the second quarter with a stellar day from Georgia Amoore and left Duke in the dust. Duke’s 37 points are its fewest since 1978 and the lowest Virginia Tech has ever allowed in an ACC tournament, surpassing a record set just about 24 hours prior when the Hokies held Miami to 42 points Friday.
“Disappointing afternoon for us,” head coach Kara Lawson said after the game. “I thought Virginia Tech played really well and really beat us in all phases. When you look at the rebounding, it was plus-20 on the boards for them; certainly on the 3-point line, most of that damage was done in the first half. We were not as disciplined as we needed to be defensively in that first half.”
Elizabeth Kitley opened the scoring for both teams with a midrange jumper over junior center Kennedy Brown, but her opportunities remained pretty limited thereafter; she finished the first quarter 2-for-4 thanks to Brown, who kept a hand in her passing lane and forced her to work outside of the paint. Brown had herself a day for the Blue Devils despite the outcome, opening the second half on a 6-0 run and helping keep the Hokies to just 12 points in the paint.
“Just making every catch hard, pushing her off her spots, not letting her get deep position, making them throw tough passes,” Brown said of how she limited Kitley to just eight points. “And then just really forcing her to put the ball on the floor, not letting her get some of those easy turnaround jumpers.”
Elizabeth Balogun also held the Hokies’ Taylor Soule — part of the Hokies’ premier scoring trio — to four points overall and helped keep the score tight in the first quarter with three steals.
The Blue Devil defense, though, was shaky outside of Brown and Balogun, and Amoore more than made up for Kitley’s four-point first half. Duke’s Celeste Taylor was guarding Amoore but was forced to play help defense after a few missed defensive switches, giving Amoore time to position herself and easily work off the catch. Amoore finished the day 9-for-16, including 6-for-8 from behind the arc, adding a game-high 24 points. She was vital in launching Virginia Tech’s 17-0 run to close out the half, whereas Duke ended the opening frame with a 6:13 scoring drought and a 36-18 deficit.
“We were just not disciplined in our scheme,” Lawson said. “We gave them clean looks for threes, which was not the game plan. And they made us pay. … And it’s unfortunate because we dug ourselves quite a hole there at half because of not being disciplined guarding the three.”
It was not necessarily a lack of opportunity that stunted Duke’s scoring early, as it did in its last two meetups against North Carolina — Duke combined for 44 turnovers in those two games. There were even opportunities to move outside of their traditional playbooks, such as when the 6-foot-6 Brown nailed a deep jumper almost outside the arc and Taylor posted up Amoore under the basket. The fall came from Duke opening on 3-for-14 shooting after blowing a string of early scoring opportunities, including a pair of air balls and three missed layups; a nine-point first quarter began another slow scoring day for Duke.
Duke’s offense remained composed in the face of an 18-point halftime deficit. The Blue Devils ended the first half Saturday with just six turnovers to Virginia Tech’s 10, compared to 13 Friday against the Tar Heels. They did not commit their first turnover until seven minutes into the game on an offensive foul by Taya Corosdale. There was enough steam left in Duke’s tank to attempt redemption in the second half, thanks in part to two 6-0 runs and improved ball movement, but Amoore’s big day kept digging Duke into a deeper hole. The junior guard did not miss a 3-pointer until midway through the third quarter.
“When she’s making her 3-point shot like that, it’s really hard to guard her,” Lawson said of Amoore. “She’s obviously quick and can get downhill, so you’re having to try to guard both things at the same time. I thought her ability to make shots tonight was really the difference-maker.”
Duke tried to give Amoore a different look at times by pitting her against sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson in lieu of Taylor, which was enough to keep her scoreless in the closing 10 minutes. The Blue Devils, though, finally started to crumble under the pressure of a 16-point deficit — evident after being whistled for three fouls in less than 10 seconds — even as Virginia Tech only scored eight points in the closing quarter.
Virginia Tech will play Sunday in its first ACC title game in school history. Meanwhile, Duke’s players sat quietly as the clock ran out, facing heartbreak less than 24 hours after a victory over North Carolina.
Out of the ACC tournament, Duke now awaits its NCAA tournament destiny, the selection show for which will start Sunday, March 12 at 8 p.m.
“We’re just going to keep working on what we do and keep working on being confident players,” Lawson said of preparing for the tournament. “We’ve been a good offensive team at times this year. And obviously here lately, the last few weeks, we’ve been inconsistent. The only way I know how to change inconsistency to consistency is to work on it.”
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Leah Boyd is a Pratt senior and a social chair of The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 117.