Duke women’s basketball grabs early lead, suffocates Coppin State en route to comfortable win

Oluchi Okananwa handles the ball during Duke's win against Toledo.
Oluchi Okananwa handles the ball during Duke's win against Toledo.

After returning to Cameron Indoor Stadium to end the holiday festivities, Duke found itself with one more chance to hone its craft before entering the gauntlet of ACC play, as the Blue Devils hosted Coppin State to close out their nonconference slate. From the opening tip, it seemed as if Duke was intent on being a grinch, as it hounded the opposition defensively from buzzer to buzzer and 10 different Blue Devils scored en route to a 68-34 victory. 

Freshman Oluchi Okananwa led the charge for the Blue Devils (8-4, 0-1 in the ACC), as the point guard put up 13 points along with eight rebounds and an impressive three steals. Jadyn Donovan and Kennedy Brown also had nice showings, as Donovan put up a team-high eight rebounds and Brown was 5-for-7 from the field for 10 points. 

Duke’s defense did not seem to have any rust from the holiday break, as a Donovan block on Coppin State’s first possession led to a shot clock violation to open the game for the Golden Eagles (3-11). The next two possessions were much of the same, with an airball followed by another Donovan block exacerbating the offensive struggles for the visitors. One more steal by Reigan Richardson followed by a technical foul on opposing coach Jermaine Woods helped the Blue Devils race out to an early 11-0 lead.

Nearly eight minutes into the game, the Golden Eagles finally got their first basket of the game on a midrange jumper from Laila Lawrence, cutting the lead to 15. Despite the big lead, head coach Kara Lawson’s team found itself in some early foul trouble, as the Blue Devils committed six fouls in the first quarter, aiding a Coppin State squad that struggled to find baskets. By the end of the first quarter, Duke had twice as many fouls as its opponent had points, as it raced out to a 20-3 lead after 10 minutes highlighted by a 10-point first quarter from Richardson. 

The second quarter was much of the same story, as the Blue Devils forced turnovers on their first two defensive possessions of the period, with one coming off a steal and the other a shot clock violation. Duke struggled in spurts to score, shooting a lowly 16.7% from three in the first half, but it ultimately did not matter, as the defense did more than enough to help the team slowly extend its lead. Similarly to the first stanza, the Golden Eagles did not score until the latter part of the quarter, with their first basket of three in the quarter coming six minutes in and ultimately gifting the Blue Devils a 36-9 halftime lead, their lowest first-half point total allowed this season.

“I thought we played well defensively. That first half, obviously nine points is pretty good against anybody. Offensively, we were poor, and so we just talked about trying to put together a complete half,” Lawson said.

Okananwa came out firing in the second half, scoring off a putback on Duke’s first possession of the third quarter and also scoring the next basket for the Blue Devils to spark an early 8-0 run leading into the media timeout that was taken over by Brown, who put up the second two buckets of the scoring spurt. Coppin State did hold Duke relatively cold for the rest of the stanza, and the Golden Eagles were able to slightly close the gap with a 12-point third quarter that saw the Blue Devils go scoreless from the field in the last four minutes. 

The fourth quarter was a much closer affair, as Coppin State showed signs of life by putting up 13 points and going on an 11-4 run over the first half of the period. The Golden Eagles made their money by forcing Duke to turn the ball over, as the Blue Devils coughed it up 15 times over the course of the contest. 

“We played really great defense in the first half and we continued that but there were let-ups on both ends of the ball, which we can’t have going into ACC play but we’re a growing young team so it’s all about changing in the game and not after it,” Brown said.

Duke’s offensive woes persisted throughout the game, as Lawson’s squad finished the game shooting 16.7% from three and 40% overall. While this mark was good enough to win handily against a struggling MEAC opponent, the second-half push from the visitors showed that Duke still has plenty to clean up before hitting the brunt of its ACC schedule. 

“I think we’re getting more comfortable with the level of college basketball, putting them in situations with road games, top teams, and tough non-conference. They’ve been exposed to a lot of schemes and we’re still layering that on them. Describe us as not a finished product and still growing and in need of improvement,” Lawson said.

The Blue Devils will resume conference play at home on New Year's Eve against Boston College.


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