Duke women's basketball puts the pieces together in comprehensive offensive performance against Toledo

Jadyn Donovan (left) and Ashlon Jackson (right) celebrate during Duke's win against Toledo.
Jadyn Donovan (left) and Ashlon Jackson (right) celebrate during Duke's win against Toledo.

Coming off a 10-day break, the Blue Devils walked into Cameron Indoor Stadium for their Wednesday night matchup against Toledo well-rested and ready to play. The Rockets also came into the game on a hot streak, having not lost a game since the third week of November. As the clash of two red-hot teams began, it became increasingly clear that when everything goes right for the Blue Devils, they are a force to be reckoned with. 

Duke’s play this season is best described as hot and cold. It took No. 1 South Carolina to the final minutes in a near-upset but never managed to take the lead against ACC-rival Clemson four days later. However, in their 70-45 win against the Rockets, the Blue Devils looked like their old selves again as they got back to the basics of what has made them successful: crashing the board for points in the paint, getting the whole team involved in scoring and controlling the pace of the game. 

“In the second half, when we attacked in transition, scored fast, that was our best offense,” head coach Kara Lawson said after the win. 

Her team has proven time and time again that attacking teams in transition will be its forte. The Blue Devils scored 14 fast-break points and recorded nine steals, holding Toledo to 23 points below its season-scoring average. Duke’s success this season has often depended on whether or not it can control the pace of the game, and it forced the visitors to play at their break-neck speed, often not giving them time to set up a proper defense. 

“We wanted to disrupt and make things a little bit more difficult,” Lawson said.

When the Rockets did get back in time to set up their defensive schemes, the Blue Devils fell back on their other reliable scoring method: relentlessly attacking the paint. This is something Lawson has wanted her team to focus on. 

“We talked about it with our team,” she said. “Let’s pass it to the paint. Let’s attack and get in there, and they executed.”

It has become obvious early that many of Duke’s players feel most comfortable scoring in the paint. Duke outscored Toledo’s 45 total points with 46 points in the paint alone. The balanced attack on offense that has worked so well came out in full force against the Rockets. Although senior center Kennedy Brown was the star of the show with a career-high 17 points, the usual suspects of freshman Jadyn Donovan and sophomore Ashlon Jackson also aided heavily in the victory with 12 and nine points, respectively. 

Still, even as Brown got off to a hot streak that ended in a nearly perfect — 6-of 7 from the field and 4-of-4 from the line — night, Duke’s fouls and turnovers allowed Toledo to stay within striking distance until halftime, two key components that have been the team’s downfall in the past. 

In the first quarter alone, Duke had seven team fouls, putting Toledo in the bonus and allowing them to gain points on free throws that kept the score close. Even though the Blue Devils got their fouling under control in the second quarter, Oluchi Okananwa and Brown both already had three fouls going into halftime. Against a more formidable opponent, that foul trouble could have meant two of Duke’s most essential players riding the bench in a possible game-winning situation. 

The Blue Devils also had 17 turnovers throughout the game. Luckily for them, their defense could often steal the ball or fall back fast enough to defend well on those turnovers, and held Toledo to only 11 points from them. Comparatively, Duke managed to turn the Rockets’ 15 turnovers into 20 points. Continued mismanagement of the ball on the offensive side could be a problem for Duke as it gears up for ACC play against teams better known for converting their opponents' mistakes into points. 

On Wednesday night, the Blue Devils turned the heat back on. The ACC is a conference full of capable teams. Duke will need to keep up with the heat that makes them such a formidable opponent while cooling off on the weaknesses talented opponents can exploit. 

If the Blue Devils can manage that, everything will be just right for their continued success down the stretch. Lawson is optimistic. 

“In terms of quality of opponent, we won’t face a better team than we’ve faced in nonconference. I don’t know that anyone’s better than South Carolina,” she said. “We won’t face a team better than that in the conference. I think that prepares us.”


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