Entering with a 2-2 record in ACC play, Duke stepped into the arena with confidence and passion Sunday afternoon, which led it to a 84-46 victory against Georgia Tech.
Freshman guard Oluchi Okananwa led the Blue Devils in scoring with 21 points, while freshman forward Jadyn Donovan and sophomore guard Taina Mair accumulated 23. For the Yellow Jackets, freshman center Ariadna Termis and sophomore guard Kara Dunn led the effort with 12 and 14 points, respectively.
“[We] just came out there with confidence and ready to play as soon as we all stepped on the floor. We knew we could all make an impact,” sophomore guard Emma Koabel said.
Playing inside a packed Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils (11-5, 3-2 in the ACC) seemed to ride the high of the crowd. The game started with energy pulsing from both teams, with a two-point jumper from junior guard Reigan Richardson opening up scoring for the Blue Devils. From then on, Duke held on to its lead, primarily due to its defensive tact. When the Yellow Jackets (12-5, 3-2) went down the court, the Blue Devils put up a wall. In total, Duke forced 17 turnovers and grabbed 11 points off of those giveaways.
“We’re just getting better at guarding actions,” head coach Kara Lawson said. “We talked about pressuring the ball and disrupting their offense. And I thought we did that in particular in that first quarter.”
From 5:03 to 1:09 in the first quarter, The Yellow Jackets did not score. Despite three turnovers forced by Georgia Tech in the first period, the Blue Devils let in zero field goals off of turnovers, a credit to their stingy defense. Yellow Jackets scoring drought ended when sophomore guard Tonie Morgan secured two points from the charity stripe and freshman center Ariadna Termis sunk a three, bringing the deficit to one point. With only 25 seconds left in the quarter, Duke responded with a layup by Donovan to stretch the tight lead back to three.
In the second period, the home team remained on a roll, and Georgia Tech was getting tired — and its shooting was getting sloppy. The Blue Devils capitalized on this, grabbing rebounds and scoring baskets of their own. Okananwa led the team in rebounds with nine. Just more than halfway through the quarter, Mair and Okananwa made three back-to-back 3-pointers, leading to a Yellow Jacket timeout with 3:28 left. However, Duke kept rolling and the half ended with the score 36-24 in favor of the Blue Devils.
“Every time we needed a big shot, man, we got it,” Lawson said. “It was nice to see them have that type of confident performance from shooting.”
A key element of Duke’s performance was not only its signature defensive pressure, but its success offensively — especially from the 3-point line. The Blue Devils made 13 of their 22 attempted threes Sunday afternoon for a 59.1% mark, much more than their usual 33.3% and a season high for the team. It certainly boosted the team when the Cameron Crazies went wild after each shot was sunk.
“We just really focused on getting quality looks and try to keep their confidence,” Lawson said. “If it’s an open look, we want you to shoot it.”
The bench was also a driving force in Duke’s offensive tactic. The Blue Devil bench scored 40 points total, almost half of the 84 total points the team scored. On average, the team’s bench has been scoring 24.5 points.
“We got a lot of contributions from a lot of different players…What do we have, like six or seven players make threes? And we’re capable of that,” Lawson said.
The Yellow Jackets were still far behind in the third quarter, and after a nine-point run by Duke in the middle of the period put them even further behind, head coach Nell Fortner called a timeout. After the break, the Yellow Jackets responded with two 3-pointers, but the Blue Devils came back with six straight points of their own. By the end of the quarter, the Duke lead had grown to 23 points and Georgia Tech was struggling.
Freshman forward Delaney Thomas began the final quarter with a layup and 3-pointer back-to-back, and the Blue Devils kept the energy going from there. The Yellow Jackets, on the other hand, were tiring out. From 8:02 to the very end of the game, Duke dominated the scoreboard, keeping Georgia Tech scoreless and adding 13 to its own total.
“Proud of the group,” Lawson said. “Quite possibly our most complete win of the season.”
Duke will welcome No. 11 Virginia Tech to Cameron Indoor Thursday evening for another round of conference play.
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