A tale of two ends writes the story of Duke women's basketball’s close win against Boston College

Oluchi Okananwa jumps for a layup during Duke's win against Toledo.
Oluchi Okananwa jumps for a layup during Duke's win against Toledo.

The last three outings for the Blue Devils have been tremendous performances — dominant offense paired well with strong defense, and Duke wrapped up the nonconference slate with three wins. Heading into Sunday’s conference matchup against Boston College, the Blue Devils were firing on all cylinders and playing confident basketball. But as soon as the ball was tipped against the Eagles, it seemed like Duke might throw it all away. 

Right from the jump, it was another lights-out offensive performance for the Blue Devils, who shot 71.4% from the field in the first half, a record in the Kara Lawson era. Forty-seven points through two quarters is the second-highest total on the year. The only problem was that Boston College had 43. 

The Blue Devils played extremely sloppy early on and failed to get set on both ends. The culprit was turnovers, of which Duke had 14. 

“That’s really hard to do and win the game,” head coach Kara Lawson said. “That’s not normal so we need to get on the positive side of those.” 

The ball went back and forth as passes went right to the Eagles, who capitalized with several made buckets. Boston College jumped out to a 10-3 lead early, as the Blue Devils were caught flat-footed. Long tosses on fast breaks and easy dimes down low helped the Eagles diced up the usually potent Duke defense. 

The Blue Devils weren’t alone in their errors, as Boston College had 12 turnovers of their own in the first half. In response, Duke heated up offensively. In her first game against her former team, sophomore guard Taina Mair sank back to back threes to keep Duke in it. 

“We just needed some momentum,” Mair said, “and I just hit some really great shots and that got us going.” 

The hot streak spread to her teammates, and a 6-0 run brought the game within one as the first quarter ended. 

Despite the outstanding shooting by the Blue Devils, the visitors hung tough, embodying the nature of ACC play, as there are no easy wins in the stacked conference. But as the game continued, the Eagles found free chances, which Duke must limit going forward. The Blue Devils had the size advantage in almost every position and were shooting at an incredible clip. Even the block party continued, with four in the first half. But Duke’s  turnovers and fouls (11 in the half alone), combined with the feisty mentality of Boston College, were just as notable. 

The wild performance on both ends is not new to Duke, which has rarely put it all together so far this season. What is fairly new, though, is the high level at which the Blue Devils closed out the game. The season has seen Duke frequently flounder in the third quarter, allowing opponents to stay in games down the stretch. While Sunday’s third period was relatively even, the Blue Devils did not struggle as they did in games against the likes of Georgia, South Carolina and Clemson. That was largely in part due to the Eagles slowing down, shooting just 27.8% from the field. 

While Duke also dropped off, shooting 50% in the third, it stretched the lead to nine at one point and played more with its signature hustle, led by freshman guard Oluchi Okananwa. The freshman’s energy has been felt all season, earning her a spot in ESPN’s list of top 15 freshman in the country. She dialed it up once again Sunday, leading the Blue Devils’ pressure throughout the game, resulting in Eagle turnovers. 

“She comes in and her energy, her defense, her offense, everything just gets us going,” Mair, who led the game with 21 points, said. “Her just coming in makes a big difference for our team.”

Undeterred by a small Boston College run to start the fourth, Duke kept its head in the game and stamped the win from the free-throw line, 80-75. Ending the win with 63.8% shooting from the field, nine blocks and 26 defensive rebounds, the Blue Devils proved themselves capable of emerging victorious against valiant opponents.

But what will also be remembered is the 28 turnovers, 20 fouls and easy opportunities given to their opponents. The Eagles failed to convert on some of those opportunities, giving Duke the win. 

“We have a lot we need to clean up, but the name of the game in ACC play is winning and the games are going to be ugly no matter what,” Lawson said. 

This is just the beginning of a very difficult conference schedule, which next takes the Blue Devils to Louisville Thursday followed by a Sunday matchup at Virginia. Sunday’s win against Boston College showed the tenacity and maturation of the young team, but one that needs to clean up some sloppiness as the season presses forward. 

“We know what we have to do to win every game,” Mair said. “So, we just got to go out there and play like ourselves and we'll be just fine.”


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