Crossovers, thunderous dunks and step-back 3-pointers — most people walk away from a basketball game remembering the night’s best offensive plays. But Thursday night, it was Duke’s exceptional effort on the other side — diving for the ball, blocks and full-court presses — that decorated the game.
The Blue Devils’ defense was too much for Coastal Carolina to handle throughout the contest, as Duke cruised to a 88-42 victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the first meeting between the Blue Devils and Chanticleers in either program’s history.
“The whole game, we were trying to find the rhythm offensively,” head coach Kara Lawson said. “[We] got some really good performances from a number of players, and certainly shot the ball well from beyond the arc.”
The complete 40-minute performance sent a message about the Blue Devils’ firepower on both ends of the floor. Twelve blocks showed that the team has two capable shot blockers who can protect the paint. Eighteen steals showed that whether it be from its full-court press or elite perimeter defenders, Duke (2-0) can apply pressure on the ball. And most importantly, the Blue Devils capitalized off its defensive talent Thursday, scoring 34 points off Coastal Carolina (0-2) turnovers.
“Our pressure can cause errant passes or a loose ball or a deflection.” Lawson said. “And there was a number of those type of turnovers where our player and help side or a player was in the proper positioning and the ball just kind of came.”
Duke wasted no time in finding good looks from the opening tip. Running its half-court offense, it made passes around the perimeter and constantly moved without the ball. Only after the Blue Devils found senior center Kennedy Brown wide open at the top of the key did they finally settle for a shot.
Brown sank her first look, and just a few possessions after, she knocked down her second 3-point attempt from the same spot. The Blue Devils, propelled by an early eight points from the senior, jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
As Brown began to cool down, missing two consecutive contested shots in the paint, sophomore Ashlon Jackson was there to take the baton. The China, Texas, native did it all. She leaped up to grab boards, initiated the offense and, when open, knocked down shots. After an eight-point first quarter, Jackson stayed hot into the second quarter. She cut to the basket for the first two points of the quarter, then drained a 3-pointer shortly thereafter. She finished with a game-high 25 points on an efficient 10-of-17 shooting clip.
“[Jackson] is a very capable scorer, she can drive in the lane and finish,” Lawson said. “She was a good 3-point shooter for us a year ago, that wasn't a surprise that she made threes.”
On top of Jackson’s performance, Duke crescendoed into the end of the first half with a boost from a sharp-shooting Emma Koabel. The sophomore guard converted on three consecutive attempts at the corner as her team knocked down eight of its 17 looks from deep in the first half.
Through all the offensive spectacle, however, Duke’s defense remained consistently dominant, limiting the Chanticleers to just 21 points either side of halftime.
Led by tough-defending wings like Jadyn Donavan in the perimeter and shot blockers Brown and Camilla Emsbo, the Blue Devils logged 10 steals and six blocks in the first half alone. Their aggression on defense was also evident, committing 15 fouls to Coastal Carolina’s six.
When the abundance of fouls sent the Chanticleers to the stripe, the Cameron Indoor crowd did its part, booing and screaming as Coastal Carolina went just 9-of-21 from the foul line across the game.
The tale of the second half was not much different to that of the first, though the Blue Devils made sure they fouled less.
The Blue Devils had their fingerprints all over the ball, creating deflections and blocking shots in the paint. Emsbo asserted herself as the pillar of Duke’s defense. The Lakewood, Colo., native’s 6-foot-5 frame helped her clog the paint and force any smaller opponents into tough, highly-contested shots. By games end, the Chanticleers had completed a mere 28.8% of their attempts from the field.
“If we can become a team that can adjust out of halftime and shore up some things maybe we did poorly in the first half,” Lawson said, “that will be critical for us going into conference play, because you have to make adjustments and you have to improve.”
For the Blue Devils, on the offensive end, the trio of Taina Mair, Jackson and Koabel took charge.
Mair, despite just two points in the first half, continued to stay aggressive with the ball in the third and fourth quarters. In one sequence, the Boston College transfer blew by her defender with a crossover then used her soft touch around the rim to finish with one hand. She then drained a 3-pointer en route to a five-point third quarter, finishing the game with seven total points and a team-high five assists.
As for Koabel and Jackson, the Chanticleers couldn’t find an answer for their hot hands. The two combined for 15 points in the second half, swishing shots from all over the court, particularly from outside, where they went for a joint 9-for-18 rate across all four quarters.
After two consecutive blowout wins, Duke prepares itself for its toughest challenge of the season, a Sunday afternoon exhibition game against the USA Basketball Women's National Team.
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