It is no secret that the Blue Devils struggled at times to score last season, and with the inexperience on this year’s team, it was expected that the trend would continue.
However, while the group has not been elite offensively, it has shot the ball better than last year. In Duke’s 72-65 overtime win against Georgia, it shot 47.2% from the field and 41.2% from behind the arc. But the Achilles’ heel of this offense is decision making and taking care of the ball, both revealed in the victory against the Bulldogs.
This is certainly understandable with the youth and the lack of depth at the point guard position, which has led to shooting guards Ashlon Jackson and Reigan Richardson also running the point throughout the season.
The Blue Devils turned the ball over 22 times Thursday night, especially at inopportune moments. With 1:20 remaining in regulation, sophomore Taina Mair threw a lazy pass to freshman Jadyn Donovan at the high post, which was stolen by the Georgia defense. Freshman forward Delaney Thomas turned it over the possession beforehand. In critical times, the Duke offense was sloppy.
“I almost pulled half my hair out in the back-to-back possessions in that, because it just looked like we were giving it back to them,” head coach Kara Lawson said jokingly after the game. “But we're going to learn from that and we definitely have to get better at taking care of the ball.”
Given that the Blue Devils sometimes struggle to score, every possession is important, and the team needs to value the ball better going forward.
"We're going to keep working on being more secure with the ball and making the open plays on time,” Lawson said. “That's a weakness of ours right now that needs to improve.”
On the other hand, there were times of quality offensive execution, especially once the team got used to the Georgia 3-2 zone.
For example, the Blue Devils made seven straight field goals at the end of the first quarter, capped off by a 30-foot buzzer-beater from Jackson. She has stepped up to be an elite shooter, and while the China, Texas, native was heralded as a threat from deep coming into college, she struggled in her freshman campaign but has really come into her own this year.
“We have a complete group in terms of they're all very capable of scoring and they're all very capable of having stretches where they kind of get on a roll,” Lawson said.
Aside from that heave from Jackson, the Blue Devils did a great job moving the ball against the zone and using set plays in the first half. Mair had a nice connection leading to a Richardson corner triple as senior center Kennedy Brown sealed the back part of the zone. In addition, Donovan was a key factor; her midrange game was a powerful asset within the gaps of the zone. She finished with 13 points on an efficient 6-of-7 from the field.
“That's my go-to spot right there in the midrange area and my teammates were hitting me there,” Donovan said. “Being able to hit those shots and, you know, help my team get some points in that half was pretty important.”
The Blue Devils also played to their strengths by running in transition and scoring before the Bulldogs could get set up. The elite defense played a big part of this, stifling Georgia’s offense by forcing 23 turnovers and scoring 19 fast break points. This is where Duke can really flex its muscle against competition — using its conditioning and length to be aggressive offensively and pushing the ball down the floor.
“Plays made late are by players and teams that are aggressive. Not reckless, but aggressive…” Lawson said. “We're not trying to walk it up the floor. We want to have great pace to what we're doing and look to pass ahead in transition.”
The flip side to this is evidently carelessness on the fast break, and there were times that the Blue Devils could not finish. However, this game showed that this offense is close, and while turnovers will inevitably be a problem in the early parts of the season, it is something that can be improved. It’s not nearly perfect, but with a young group, signs are pointing in the right direction.
“Hopefully one of these days we'll be able to put it all together and have a complete offensive performance,” Lawson said. “I think that's coming.”
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Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.