With Thanksgiving on the horizon and Duke’s campus awaiting a break from school, it was the Wildcats who traveled to Durham and feasted against the Blue Devils.
Following a nail-biting Tuesday victory against Columbia, Duke returned home to play Davidson, fresh off of a tight loss against North Carolina, Thursday evening at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Led by Suzi-Rose Deegan and Elle Sutphin’s combined 37 points, Davidson held off the Blue Devils 69-62 after an impressive two-way performance.
“I thought [Davidson] played with great passion, physicality and competitiveness,” Duke head coach Kara Lawson said. “They definitely deserved to win the game.”
With a put-back and-one, a scream towards Duke's bench and another tough finish in traffic, freshman guard Jadyn Donovan’s third-quarter play gave the Blue Devils (3-1) a much-needed jolt of momentum. The already-budding noise of the crowd at Cameron Indoor came to a deafening roar as freshman guard Oluchi Okananwa cut the Davidson lead to seven with an ankle-breaking crossover and jumper.
“I think there's a lot to build on with those two,” Lawson said of Okananwa and Donovan. “There's going to be some ups and downs, but you can see the talent there. If they can keep improving, I think they'll both be big pieces to our team.”
Just when it seemed like the Wildcats (3-1) had gotten a lucky break, their off-the-backboard buzzer-beating make was released after the third-quarter shot clock hit zero, and Duke entered the fourth in striking distance.
Nonetheless, Davidson proved its might at the start the fourth as Charlise Dunn answered Duke’s comeback attempt with yet another crowd-silencing three, pushing the Wildcats’ lead back into double-digits.
Okananwa tried her best to will Duke back into the game late in the fourth with a five-point run of her own, but a tough finish in traffic from Millie Prior after a nearly 50-second possession was a microcosm of Duke’s evening.
“I thought [Okananwa] continued to do what she does,” Lawson said. “To this point in the season, [she’s] my highest effort player consistently, and that's been true in practice as well. When you play with that type of effort, it gets rewarded with opportunities.”
The in-state matchup started quickly for both sides. Reigan Richardson opened the scoring for the Blue Devils, but Sutphin, entering the matchup averaging 16.3 points per contest, answered quickly with a triple. Shortly after, Deegan added a layup and a three, and Davidson found itself up 10-6 entering the media timeout.
To make matters worse for the Blue Devils, Richardson was forced to the bench with a pair of fouls, and the junior did not reenter until the second half.
“When I put [Richardson] back in in the USA game on Sunday, with two fouls, she got her third at the end of the half,” Lawson said. “That was the calculus. I didn't want the repeat of four days ago.”
The Blue Devils’ offensive struggles persisted past the midway mark of the first half as after a more than five-minute scoring drought, Taina Mair finally drilled a triple to cut the Davidson lead to 13-9. With staunch defensive efforts from both sides, the only additional points to be spared in the first quarter were an Emma Koabel jumper and two Issy Morgan free throws. Going into the second quarter, Duke trailed 15-11.
“When I go back and look at the tape, I think we're generating quality looks,” Lawson said. “The point of offense is to generate the quality looks, and then we've got to finish. So hopefully, we'll be able to finish a little bit better.”
To start the second quarter, Davidson applied the pressure. Starting with a Dunn crossover and jumper that left Ashlon Jackson’s hand on the floor, the Wildcats took advantage of Duke’s eventual nine first-half turnovers and Richardson’s foul-induced absence in the quarter to extend their lead to 27-16 with under five to play in the half.
With the half winding to a close, it became more and more evident that the Wildcats’ defensive intensity was too much to handle for a Blue Devil offense in desperate need of a true scorer. Shooting 11-of-31 from the field, Duke trailed 39-27 heading to the locker room as Davidson’s dynamic pairing of Sutphin and Dunn combined for 20 points.
“That was not us in the first half. That was not our energy, that was not our defense,” Okananwa said. “Defense is really something that we preach and that we hold dear to our hearts and that first half, we just weren’t ourselves defensively.”
Perhaps a point of emphasis from head coach Kara Lawson during the halftime interval was Duke’s pace. The Blue Devils added their first four fast-break points of the game during the first few minutes of the second half, resulting in a quick Duke start that cut Davidson’s lead to 42-33. The Wildcats took the Blue Devils’ punch and promptly fired one back, extending the lead to 47-33 after Sutphin added five more points of her own.
“We want to play with a great pace and get in transition regardless of how the possession starts,” Lawson said.
The difference in this matchup? Three-point shooting. Davidson tallied an efficient 9-for-18 from beyond the arc, while Duke responded with a poor 2-of-13 rate of their own. Relying on the two-point shot, the Blue Devils struggled to make a dent into a consistent Wildcat lead.
“Looking at the stat sheet, they hit nine threes, we hit two,” Lawson said. “That's a big difference in the game. They hit some threes off of offensive rebounds, which we've got to do a much better job of on the defensive glass.”
Following the loss, Duke will prepare itself for a road trip to California to take on No. 6 Stanford.
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