Duke plays its first ACC tournament game Friday evening as a No. 2-seed following an immensely successful regular season. Before the Blue Devils tip off, the Blue Zone is here with a potential game-changer throughout the tournament:
Duke: Shayeann Day-Wilson
At first glance, senior Celeste Taylor seems like the obvious choice to lead Duke into battle. As the newly crowned ACC Defensive Player of the Year, the Valley Stream, N.Y., native has put in consistent and captivating performances all year long to lead the Blue Devils to one of their best seasons in recent history. However, Taylor is a known entity and many expect her to continue her steadfast play as the team’s leading scorer. The real game-changer for Duke lies in last year’s ACC Freshman of the Year, sophomore Shayeann Day-Wilson.
During the 2021-22 season, the Toronto native was nothing short of a freshman phenom. Leading the Blue Devils in scoring and assists, she earned ACC Freshman of the Week honors three times while also being tabbed to the All-ACC Freshman Team. In last season’s conference tournament, she became just the fourth Duke freshman to tally 20 or more points in ACC postseason play when she dropped 22 points against Pittsburgh in the first round. Time and again, she was the Blue Devils’ star.
Nonetheless, Day-Wilson has had a roller-coaster season in her second year playing for head coach Kara Lawson. After coming off the bench in the first three contests, the sophomore guard has not been as consistent as 2021-22, with elite performances one day and more tame showings the next. Still, she ranks third in scoring with 8.6 points per game and averages 2.4 assists, the best on the team. Even with her sometimes-erratic play, when Day-Wilson plays well, Duke plays well.
Beyond that, the Crestwood Prep alum shows out in important games on the biggest stages. She dropped a season-high 24 points against North Carolina in the first showdown of the Tobacco Road Rivalry and scored 17 points against UConn in the Phil Knight Legacy tournament in November 2022. When the Blue Devils beat a very good Virginia Tech team in January, Day-Wilson earned 18 points to her name. Duke has looked to her again and again to come up with jaw-dropping performances when the pressure is greatest.
Stepping into the spotlight does not faze her, and that confidence will serve Duke well in the ACC tournament. The sophomore has been struggling recently, after failing to break double digits against opponents like N.C. State and North Carolina, but that is all the more reason to believe she is due for a big game. The Blue Devils have plenty of talented players to help them win games, but Day-Wilson will be the athlete to decide whether or not Duke comes back with the ACC crown.
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