It was Education Day for Durham’s finest, and in their home debut, the Blue Devils put on a spectacular show that the passionate kids watching in awe will not be forgetting any time soon.
A combined 50 points by junior guard Reigan Richardson and freshman guard Oluchi Okananwa highlighted the spectacle. The Blue Devils displayed a level of physicality that Richmond simply could not match. As the game went on, one team wore down while the other rose to excellence, culminating in an 83-53 rout of Richmond by Duke.
The Blue Devils started this game a bit rough, with four straight misses after a basket on the opening possession. However, their defensive intensity was electric out the gate, leaving room for their offense to catch up. All it took was an offensive rebound by freshman forward Delaney Thomas leading to Duke’s first 3-pointer by Richardson to spark the offense.
Richardson seized control of this game early. Her value as a scorer was on full display, scoring both catch-and-shoot and off the dribble with ease. She finished with a game-high 28 points, on an incredible 12-for-15 shooting from the field and a perfect 4-for-4 from behind the arc.
“That’s basically just what I’ve been working on in the off season, being able to step up into the bigger roles that coach has put me into, and I feel that if I can execute like that, we will have a good season going down the road,” Richardson said after the game.
However, it was not scoring that highlighted the gap between these two teams, it was physicality. The Blue Devils (1-0) had very active hands, suffocating defense and were ferocious on the glass. This was most apparent in the final stretch of the first quarter. Graduate forward Camilla Emsbo missed a shot and Duke proceeded to grab three straight offensive rebounds, which eventually led to a drawn foul and two points off free throws. This carried over to the defensive end, where the team immediately forced a Richmond (0-1) shot-clock violation. Okananwa then powered into the paint with a strong drive for a layup. Finally, with only a few seconds to go, Duke suffocated the Spiders’ offense and a swipe steal capped off the quarter.
“This is a step-up in physicality for a lot of our players, especially our freshman, so that's an important piece to how we play defensively,” head coach Kara Lawson said. “We don’t want to give up anything easy. We want dribbles to be hard, we want catches to be hard, we want shots to be hard.”
This physicality kept Duke comfortably in control throughout the whole game despite scoring droughts and occasional sloppy ball control. It was Okananwa who set the tone. This was most apparent early in the second quarter, when she ripped the ball from Richmond’s Maggie Doogan and drew a foul. She then proceeded to steal the ball off the inbound and score an easy layup. Okananwa led the team with three steals in the game, all in just the first half. She was also Duke’s second leading scorer, as her aggressive defense propelled her and the rest of the team’s offense.
The Blue Devils had strong runs in the second quarter, including a 12-4 one to start. However, it was consistently plagued by bouts of soft 3-point coverage and turnovers. This kept Richmond in the game entering the half, as the Blue Devils were only up 39-25. It was not until the third quarter where the difference in these two teams began to widen even larger. Duke’s physicality and intensity had always been there, but its offense had yet to truly arrive. It was once it did that the game became all but over.
The Blue Devils’ offense exploded in the third quarter, courtesy of Richardson’s dominance. She scored 15 of the team’s 25 points in the quarter, going 6-for-6 from the field and 3-for-3 from deep. At all three levels, she put the ball through the net effortlessly, individually outsourcing the Spiders. The team as a whole outscored the opposition by 14, doubling their lead by the end of the period.
By the fourth, the game was already out of hand and the Blue Devils were able to cruise to a comfortable win. Nonetheless, that did not slow down Okananwa‘s energy, as she tallied an additional six boards, adding to her final total of 12, as well as eight points. Although this game was a tale of two players, the team as a whole contributed to an impressive performance to start the year.
With their first home win in the book, the Blue Devils continue their nonconference schedule against Coastal Carolina Thursday at 7 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
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