RALEIGH—On a fast break midway through the third quarter, an Oluchi Okananwa pass for Duke was picked out of its path by Saniya Rivers, who dished it down the floor to Zoe Brooks for an easy layup with no Blue Devil within 10 feet. A sold-out crowd at Reynolds Coliseum clamored to their feet, with chants reaching levels similar to those inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.
That was the story of the game for Duke, who got down early and stayed down, defeated by the fourth-ranked Wolfpack 72-57 Sunday afternoon. After an impressive comeback victory at home against No. 14 Virginia Tech Thursday night, Duke had its hands full again Sunday. Held to just 37.9% shooting, a stout N.C. State defense gave the Blue Devils a taste of their own medicine, grabbing steals and forcing turnovers and tough shots for the visitors.
“I don't think we handled the intensity of it to start,” said head coach Kara Lawson. “We've got to figure out a way to not put ourselves in that hole. These teams are too good to be able to climb out of those holes.”
Senior center Kennedy Brown got things going for Duke (12-6, 4-3 in the ACC), sinking two jumpers for the first points of the game for the visitors, but it stopped there. N.C. State (16-2, 4-2) turned it on, scoring 11 unanswered points to jump out to a 10-point lead. It was the free throws that hurt the Blue Devils, who committed five fouls in the first period, giving the Wolfpack an easy six points from the charity stripe to bump their early lead.
Duke had four free throws of its own, but that was about it for the visitors in the first quarter. The Blue Devils were plagued by another slow start offensively, shooting 33.3% from the field through the first 10 minutes and just 1-of-3 from deep.
The same was not the case for their opponents, who caught fire early. Aziaha James made the Wolfpack’s first try from behind the arc, followed soon by another from Madison Hayes, then a third by James.
Duke found itself flustered on defense, as N.C. State used quick passing, its size advantage and pump fakes to dice up the Blue Devils for open looks.
This continued into the second quarter, but luckily for Duke, the Wolfpack now could not make a shot. The Blue Devils went on a 6-1 run to start the second, but it stopped there — a drought held them to 4-16 from the field in the quarter. Duke committed more fouls, sending N.C. State into the bonus with four minutes left until the half.
Down by 15, it was clear Lawson’s group had some work to do. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, it started with more of the same with three early misses and two fouls.
The ball stayed in James’ hands for the Wolfpack, who had six of her team’s 12 points through the first timeout of the second half. She then hit her third triple coming out of the timeout to eclipse 20 points, leading all scorers. A Mimi Collins jumper pushed the Wolfpack lead to 21.
Duke started to find some success at the hands of junior guard Reigan Richardson, who ended the third quarter with seven points to lead the team. But the real consistent presence throughout was Brown, who ended the game with 14 points to pace the Blue Devils.
“I thought the scoring was much needed, because the rest of our group really struggled and struggled to score,” Lawson said. “I think she's just what you'd expect from our senior as we get into conference play, and Kennedy certainly has done that.”
While Duke hung tough in the later parts of the game, it just was not enough to fully get back into things. The Blue Devils had five unanswered points highlighted by an Okananwa triple, but it was erased as James sank three free throws on the other end to bring the hosts’ lead to 65-49, all but ending Duke’s comeback bid.
The sophomore ended with 33 points in her team’s victory, a career-high.
The final five minutes saw Richardson and Brown foul out, four Blue Devil turnovers and seven fouls. It was the nail in the coffin of a rough outing for Duke.
A tough portion of ACC play will continue for the Blue Devils Thursday, as No. 15 Florida State comes to Durham for a 6 p.m. tipoff.
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