'Welcome to the road': Duke women's basketball struggled to find its footing in close win at Columbia

Duke center Kennedy Brown battles Betnijah Laney beneath the rim in Sunday's exhibition against Team USA.
Duke center Kennedy Brown battles Betnijah Laney beneath the rim in Sunday's exhibition against Team USA.

NEW YORK—“Welcome to the road,” Blue Devil head coach Kara Lawson said following her team’s 66-62 win at Columbia.

Last game against Coastal Carolina, Duke set the single-game school record for most made 3-pointers with 14. The Blue Devils made 42.4% of their threes against the Chanticleers. Against the Lions, Duke went 1-for-10 from beyond the arc. A seemingly sold-out Columbia gym brought the full experience for a young squad that is still solidifying its team chemistry, and Lawson’s group was not able to execute as cleanly as it would’ve liked.

The contest started smoothly for the Blue Devils as they went on an 11-2 run to start the first quarter. The menacing duo of Reigan Richardson and Taina Mair were turning steals into points in transition, and Duke looked like it was preparing to run up the score on its Ivy League hosts. Eventually, the Lions settled into their home court advantage. Turnovers became less and less frequent for Columbia, and the team turned to its superstar guard Abbey Hsu to bail it out of the deficit. 

“[Hsu is] a great shooter. I thought early in the game and throughout the game, we lost her,” said Lawson of the Columbia guard’s performance.

The All-Ivy League player scored 16 points in the first half on 6-of-8 shooting. Fueled by a Columbia student section that just got louder as the game progressed, the senior could not miss a jumper in the first half, hitting open threes and contested fadeaways all the same. 

Hsu rattled the Blue Devils to the point that Columbia role players were left wide open due to the disproportionate focus on her. The Lions were able to climb back and tie the score at 24 in the second quarter, and they had a game in New York City. 

When the contest got close and the gym got loud, errors closed in on Duke. Freshman Jadyn Donovan became sloppy on defense and committed two fouls in the second quarter that eventually led her to fouling out in the fourth. The team’s offensive efficiency decreased through the tight second and third quarters as Columbia gained confidence in its defense and its chances of winning the matchup.

“You’ve got to go with what’s working that night. And it's a surprise; you never know who's going to play well as a coach and who's going to get in foul trouble,” Lawson said.

And there was no clear answer for Duke. The whole team seemed to fall into a shooting slump when competition got tight. The Blue Devils could only hope that their towering duo of Kennedy Brown and Camilla Emsbo would recycle their wasted long-range chances to keep Duke’s point total in line with Columbia’s. Lawson was forced to let her group continue to go back and forth with a team that it was hoping to comfortably handle. Luckily for the Blue Devils, they were able to keep enough players out of foul trouble to bring the game down to the wire. 

“I've got a young team, seven freshmen and sophomores out of 10, four of them it was their first road game. It's going to be a process for us. There are going to be a lot of firsts for them. We've just got to keep growing and improving…we'll grow a lot from this” said Lawson.

The Blue Devils learned to maintain Hsu’s trickery and limit the Lions’ scoring in the final minutes to exit the game up by four. 

“In the midst of a poor performance, we were able to make the plays we needed to late, so I'm proud of that. And certainly a win is a win. So we'll take it back to Durham,” said Lawson.

Duke’s trip to New York taught it that a target appears on every player’s head any time it steps into a foe’s stadium; every program wants its shot at taking down the mighty Blue Devils. A significant change up from the confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium, the crowd boomed on every Duke free throw and mocked every unfortunate Blue Devil who airballed a shot. 

Lawson reminds her players, “This is what it's like every night on the road.”


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