The ACC/SEC Challenge gifts teams from two distinct Power 5 conferences with the rare opportunity to play each other. And even without regional rivalries or a history of bad blood, Thursday’s matchup between Duke and Georgia proved to be an instant classic.
In front of the home crowd at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., the Blue Devils out-battled the Lady Bulldogs 72-65 in an overtime effort. This marks Duke’s fifth win in five matchups against Georgia all-time.
“We keep growing,” head coach Kara Lawson said. “We're a young team but we keep getting better and better each game and this is a big win for us to go on the road against an SEC team.”
Just as the game started to tilt to Duke’s favor in the second half, the Lady Bulldogs clawed back out of their 10-point deficit. They outscored the Blue Devils (5-2) 17-12 in the third quarter, setting themselves for a perfect chance to steal the win. Behind Georgia’s efforts was Javyn Nicholson, who finished the game with a game-high 21 points.
“It felt like every time we got some separation, they were able to come back and make plays,” Lawson said. “I'm just proud of my team to be able to fight back."
And with a chance at hand, the Lady Bulldogs (5-2) didn’t falter. They gave Duke a taste of its own medicine, forcing 15 second-half turnovers. A heightened defensive effort by Georgia saw careless errors from Duke — most notably, a line violation from Donovan and a careless entry pass from Taina Mair. Georgia’s energy in the second half wasn’t quite enough to win the game in regulation, though, as two free throws from former Lady Bulldog Reigan Richardson tied the game at 55 before Delaney Thomas’ jumper narrowly missed wide.
With five minutes of overtime left to decide the victor, Duke outplayed Georgia. After a quick two-point bucket from Nicholson, a series of tough shots and defensive stops launched the Blue Devils on a crowd-shushing 10-1 run that closed out a game they were once in complete control of.
“A big emphasis that we learned from our loss against Stanford was that we need to get stops when the game is on the line,” Donovan said. “And I think that's something that we definitely executed today.”
It was the Lady Bulldogs that drew first blood. They knocked down five of their first nine attempts, jumping to an early 10-3 lead. Finding ways to penetrate Duke’s defense and enter the paint, Georgia found itself on the foul line 14 times in the first half, earning nine points off it.
But it didn’t take long for the Blue Devils to tighten up their defensive play. Led by the defensive efforts of Jadyn Donovan and Mair, Duke wreaked havoc on the opposite side of the ball.
Through its full-court press and quick defensive rotations, the visiting team forced 13 turnovers on Georgia in the first half alone and 22 by full time, contributing to 20 of the Blue Devils’ 72 total points. Duke limited Georgia to just two makes of its final 17 shots of the first half.
Duke’s dominance on defense was matched on the other end of the floor. Through steals, deflections and blocks, the Blue Devils were quick to transition into offense, connecting to a running Oluchi Okananwa for a quick two-point conversion. They scored 15 points off turnovers in the first half.
In the half-court offense, it was sophomore guard Ashlon Jackson who took charge. The sophomore guard propelled Duke into a 10-2 run to close the first quarter and usher in the second. With just seconds left on the game clock, the China, Texas, native took matters into her own hands, draining a three well beyond the arc as the buzzer sounded. She continued to stay hot into the second quarter, knocking down her first two looks. She finished the game with a team-high 18 points.
“Offensively, we made sure to take advantage of the 3-2 zone that they were in,” Donovan said. “[The midrange] is my go-to spot … and my teammates were hitting me there.”
Alongside Jackson, it was Donovan who led the way for Duke in the first half. She looked like the pillar of Duke’s full-court press, using her length and athleticism to cause problems for Georgia with deflections and blocks. The freshman wing’s success continued on the offensive end, where she shot a perfect five-of-five from the field in the first half.
With a combined effort from their players, the Blue Devils knocked down 13 of their last 23 shots of the first half, despite missing six of their first seven field-goal attempts to start the game.
Up next for Duke is another difficult test, as No. 1 South Carolina travels to Cameron Indoor Stadium Sunday afternoon.
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