In the 2022-23 season, Duke was often synonymous with a tenacious defense and a lockdown mentality, grinding out low-scoring affairs to secure victory. While much of the preseason focus this year has been on the dominance of the Blue Devils’ defense, in their home opener and first game of the 2023-34 season, they proved that their offense should not be discounted as a genuine threat.
A Monday in the late morning is not a traditional time for a basketball game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke didn’t let this odd playing time phase it, as the team came out against Richmond and showed how much the program has evolved in the past year. While the defense remained formidable, forcing 18 turnovers, it was the Blue Devils’ offense that was the star of the show in their dominant 83-53 win, offering a compelling glimpse into what could lie ahead if they continue on this path consistently.
Junior guard Reigan Richardson, who has stepped up to take a leadership role amid the gap left by the transfer portal and graduations last year, showed how key she is to Duke continuing to develop its newfound offensive strength. Richardson went 12-for-15 shooting from the field and an impressive 4-for-4 from the 3-point line, making for a career-high 28 points.
Even on a sluggish Monday, those assembled to support the Blue Devils went wild as the threes kept falling for Richardson. The crowd had even more to celebrate as freshman forward Oluchi Okananwa followed Richardson’s dynamic offensive example, shining in her first game as a Blue Devil. Coming off the bench, Okananwa scored 22 points, shooting 8-for-11 from the field while leading her team with 12 rebounds. For a 5-foot-10 rookie, that is no unremarkable feat.
Richardson and Okananwa were not the only members of their team who found offensive success Monday; of the 10 rostered players, eight scored, and the team shot 54% from the field.
“Everybody on our team has something special to give,” Richardson said after the game. “So just giving it up, being able to share the ball so that everybody else can do the same thing.”
The team’s offensive style against Richmond could also be described as aggressive, in the same way that its stout defense has often been described.
“The same things that make our team good defensively, our length, athleticism, our versatility, we believe they can make us good offensively,” said head coach Kara Lawson.
Those same strengths certainly worked for Duke on offense Monday. The Blue Devils shifted their aggressive defense style to the other side of the court with remarkable success this early in the season.
The Blue Devils scored 18 second-chance points, refusing to back down on missed shots until something finally fell in. Scoring on the second chance gave Duke the control it needed over the game and kept the Spiders at arm's length. They fought on every missed shot for an offensive rebound, racking up 16 offensive boards, including a fair few near the beginning of the game that set the tone.
“[Duke] didn't miss a whole lot after that,” Richmond head coach Aaron Roussell said. “Even the times that they were missing, they were going to get their offensive rebounds.”
Duke also continually pushed the pace, running an intense offensive scheme. Richmond hardly had the chance to catch its breath between the Blue Devils’ dynamic transition offense and its stifling full-court press that lasted the entire game, and as a result a fair number of their points came in transition or on fast breaks.
This never-give-up offensive mindset, relying on the likes of Richardson and Okananwa for continued production, and controlling the pace of the game are key strategies that will be essential for a Duke team that struggled to put up points last year, especially as it goes on to face teams with much stronger defenses than Richmond’s. In the immediate future, that includes Stanford, Georgia and South Carolina all in the next month.
Still, with the win, the Blue Devils made one thing clear Monday: if the early signs stick around, they can be just as much of a threat on offense as they are on defense.
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