Duke women's basketball's inexperience shone through in loss to N.C. State, but so did its offensive potential

Kennedy Brown holds up the ball during Duke's loss to N.C. State.
Kennedy Brown holds up the ball during Duke's loss to N.C. State.

Put plain and simple, Duke fell to a more experienced N.C. State team in a sold-out Reynolds Coliseum Sunday afternoon. Once the match got a move on and the Wolfpack’s bombardment of triples was responded to with thunderous applause, there was little the Blue Devils could do to keep themselves from going under.

“In basketball terms, we're not 21 yet. We don't even drink. I'm playing the freshman the most minutes in the ACC,” said head coach Kara Lawson. “We're the youngest team in the league in terms of players that play and so this is what it is. I wish it wasn't like this. But this is what it is.”

And No. 4 N.C. State certainly played like the more experienced team. The Wolfpack led by 10 points by the end of the first quarter and suffered half as many turnovers as its opponents. Duke’s eight turnovers in the first quarter was the most for the entire game, and during the first frame, N.C. State was able to build a comfortable margin.

“We were out of rhythm on the offensive end in that first quarter. And [N.C. State is] very good at transitions,” Lawson said. “I just thought we were hurried more than anything.”

Beyond turnovers, the Blue Devils shots were simply not falling. Duke had a 28.6% field goal percentage in the first half and only hit 12.5% of its first-half triples. At the same time, the Wolfpack were shooting over 40% from the field and from three.

The Blue Devils’ inconsistent turnovers in tandem with their concerning number of first half giveaways caused the team to enter halftime down 15 points to its ACC hosts.

Duke has overcome sizable margins thus far in its season. In its previous game against Virginia Tech, the Hokies started off the game with a 13-1 run. But after holding the visitors to eight points in both the second and third quarters, the Blue Devils were able to fight back and earn a ranked win at home. 

Once the game resumed for a second half of basketball, Duke needed to quickly build its way back up to N.C. State if it wanted any chance of winning. But at times it seemed like the Blue Devils’ sense of urgency caused the team to shoot itself in the foot. Its attempts at turning defensive rebounds into fast-break points would often end in turnovers and two points the other direction for the Wolfpack. Many times, senior center Kennedy Brown would back down her defender in an attempt to utilize her size advantage, but her effort would end in a low-percentage turn-around shot and a defensive rebound for N.C. State.

Throughout the third frame, Duke continued to struggle to keep pace with the Wolfpack, and the home team’s margin grew. To make matters worse, Lawson’s top two scorers from the game, Reigan Richardson and Brown, found themselves in foul trouble in the second. Then both fouled out and all hopes were lost to fight back against the Blue Devils’ down-the-road neighbors. 

“I think we were just undisciplined within our scheme, and when you're undisciplined and you're out of position, when there's contact, it's gonna be a foul,” Lawson said.

On the bright side, Duke’s performance shows room for growth. There were flashes of offense from the young Blue Devils that had a top-five team in the country on its heels. 

“I was concerned going into this game because of the way Duke plays … Duke has some young players, and that’s why I think they’re getting better” said N.C. State head coach Wes Moore. 

With time, the imperfections due to Duke’s inexperience will start to iron themselves out. Moore mentioned that teams are currently in the “dog days” of the season. Time will pass before the NCAA tournament begins. Until then, the Blue Devils have games to catalyze improvement.


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