Duke women's basketball's comeback bid falls short as Blue Devils drop road clash with Miami

Taina Mair shoots over an N.C. State defender during Duke's loss in Raleigh.
Taina Mair shoots over an N.C. State defender during Duke's loss in Raleigh.

CORAL GABLES, Fla.—Even in late January, Miami brought the heat to the Blue Devils’ trip down south. 

Throughout the contest, Duke struggled to find its footing and a last-minute comeback attempt fell short against Miami, falling 64-58 Sunday afternoon. Duke’s key contributors included the freshmen duo of Jadyn Donovan and Oluchi Okananwa, totalling 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting. For the Hurricanes, Ja’le Williams and former Blue Devil Shayeann Day-Wilson combined for 33 points.  

“I thought we had plenty of moments in that second half where we couldn’t have let it get out of control, but we didn’t,” head coach Kara Lawson said postgame. “I’m proud of my young group.” 

Amidst Miami’s attempts to put the game away late in the third, it was an Okananwa three, Kennedy Brown putback and a Donovan layup that kept Duke firmly within striking distance entering the fourth quarter down 49-41. 

Nonetheless, the Hurricanes managed to snatch back momentum in the fourth with Day-Wilson’s fifth three-pointer of the afternoon and back-to-back air balls on the following possession by Jackson and Okananwa. With 17 total points in the matchup, it’s safe to say Day-Wilson showed up to play against her former side. 

“After the game, we’re friends and we’re cool, but when it’s in the ball game, it’s business,” Day-Wilson said postgame about her former team. 

Miami’s rotation featured all non-freshmen, and as most experienced squads do, the Hurricanes played smart late, winding down the shot clock, scoring-second chance points and refusing to allow Duke to run in transition. 

“There's a lot that goes into playing well, you have to be able to play hard and play with great effort, but you also have to be able to play with intelligence,” Lawson said. 

With three minutes left in the game, Duke made its final push – two free throws by Richardson followed by layups by Brown and Okananwa fired a 6-0 Duke run in the closing stages, bringing the contest to 59-55. Then, following two home free throws, Miami’s Jaida Patrick sent Taina Mair to the foul line after a three point attempt, and the Boston native nailed all three. Out of nowhere, the Blue Devils cut the Hurricane lead to three.  

With an attempt to tie the game in the winding seconds, the Blue Devils’ first-quarter turnover troubles came back to haunt them as Okananwa traveled, handing the ball back to Miami for two game-clinching free throws. 

“[I am] proud of my group for battling back,” Lawson said. “Obviously, we were down there double figures. We were able to get it to a one possession game late, and didn’t have the ability to get stops. It’s hard to win on the road in our league.”

In the contest’s frantic first five minutes in Coral Gables, Donovan proved to be Duke’s primary offensive contributor, hitting a turnaround jump shot and a reverse layup to score the visiting side’s first four points. To end the first quarter, Duke found its balance with six players making their mark in the box score, and as a result, the Blue Devils found themselves on a 7-0 run to end the quarter up 15-14. 

Although in the lead, Duke’s first quarter was sloppy — six total turnovers and two blocks kept Miami in the ball game early. However, the six first quarter turnovers were clearly a point of emphasis for Lawson during the first break as in the second, Duke (13-7, 5-4 in the ACC) cut its count to two. 

“I thought we got loose with the ball [and] turned it over,” Lawson said. “I thought that kind of ignited their break.”

Duke’s increased ball security could be viewed as the sole positive takeaway from the second frame as midway through Miami’s offense stepped on the gas. With a 10-0 run of their own and a more than three-minute scoring drought for Duke, the Hurricanes (13-7, 3-5) extended their once-narrow lead to 29-17. 

“We need to execute better in order to get the looks that we're trying to get on the offensive end,” Lawson said. 

Make no mistake about it: Miami did not play as a 2-5 ACC team Sunday afternoon. In totality, the struggling in-conference record continues to serve as an inaccurate representation of Miami’s talent. In the Hurricanes’ last two games, they managed to upset No. 4 N.C. State and took No. 20 North Carolina down to the wire in Chapel Hill. It takes no expert to understand that Duke would be facing a real challenge in South Florida. 

“It's hard to win on the road in our league,” Lawson said. “We knew this would be a challenging game.”

In junior guard Shayeann Day-Wilson’s first half against her former squad, she shined, scoring eight points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field and 2-of-4 from three. Much to the distaste of the Duke bench, her first bucket, a triple, resulted in a glare back Lawson’s way on Day-Wilson’s jog back down the court. To end the half, Lawson threw a combination of Ashlon Jackson and Taina Mair on Day-Wilson on the defensive end, which effectively halted Day-Wilson’s first half offensive explosion. 

Duke struggled on the offensive end, shooting 33.3% from the field amidst tough halves from reliable contributors in Okananwa and Mair. The two guards, both averaging over 10 points per contest, combined for 2-8 shooting. Miami went into the break leading 33-23.

Noticeably, Duke’s shot selection seemed to be Lawson’s primary halftime adjustment as guards Okananwa, Donovan and Mair continuously drove to the rim with force. As the Blue Devils turned their heads to contested layups, Miami responded from behind the arc with a pair of triples in the first five second-half minutes, extending the Hurricanes’ lead by a point to 43-32. 

“This is a team that shoots a lot better from three at home than they do on the road,” Lawson said. “They certainly did that tonight, they were able to knock down 10 threes, and we only made four. I thought that was one of the differences in the game.” 

If a team makes six less threes than its opponent, it must make up for the lack of points with dynamic offensive cutting, made free throws and rebounding. While Duke managed to out-rebound Miami, its offensive game fell short in other areas, most significantly shooting 67% from the free-throw line and just 40% from the field. 

“The energy wasn't great today, one through nine of all the players who played,” Lawson said. “We need to improve on that.”

Coming off of a colossal top-25 victory against Florida State, the Blue Devils will hope to return to winning ways. On Thursday, Duke has the chance to bounce back during its second-straight game on the road at Pittsburgh. 


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