SENT PACKING: Duke women's basketball blasts No. 6 N.C. State, secures second-straight ranked upset

Taina Mair weaves her way through the N.C. State defense during Duke's Saturday evening win.
Taina Mair weaves her way through the N.C. State defense during Duke's Saturday evening win.

On Sunday evening, Cameron Indoor Stadium was packed with N.C. State and Duke fans alike, both sides rowdy from the beginning. The Blue Devils were coming hot off of their away victory Thursday against Syracuse — and knocked the Wolfpack out cold. The game ended with a 69-58 Blue Devil victory, their second in a row against a ranked ACC opponent.

“Our group was excited for another opportunity to play against them,” head coach Kara Lawson said postgame.

The game was the Reigan Richardson, Kennedy Brown and Taina Mair show. The formidable trio led the team in scoring, Richardson with a total of 15 points, Brown with 15 and Mair with 20. Mair, ever unshakeable, would often bring the ball down the court, pausing just to make her opponents tremble.

“Mair made big time plays, to be able to keep that distance, that double figure distance,” Lawson said. “With the ball in her hand, she was steady.”

There was the same air of confidence Saturday that Duke (18-9, 10-6 in the ACC) played with Thursday against Syracuse, and it seemed to surprise N.C. State. The Blue Devils’ last battle with the Wolfpack (23-5, 11-5) was early into the season and away from home, ending with a 72-57 Duke loss. But with the student section roaring “defense,” the Blue Devils answered the call and locked up shop. 

“We weren't going to come out relaxed, and let them go on a run to start,” Brown said. “We started fast and physical.”

Duke’s defense was unsurprisingly the main culprit in N.C. State’s downfall. The Blue Devils were able to completely block out the Wolfpack, keeping them to a 33.3% scoring percentage during the game. In addition, Duke was able to steal and break out in transition with high effectiveness. In the first half, seven of Duke’s eight points off turnovers were fast-break points. 

“I thought we were much more locked in defensively than we were in the first meeting over there,” Lawson said. “They had kind of jumped on us over there. And we had wanted just to play better.”

Duke’s shooting, however, dwindled at times, especially when it came to shots from downtown. In the first half, the Blue Devils went 3-of-12 on threes and shot at a 48.5% clip from the floor. Still, it was better than the Wolfpack’s 0-for-5 rate — and Duke’s ability to rebound well and steal the ball back kept them in the game despite their shooting deficits early in the game.

“We're just better when we run … We're a better offense, a more efficient offense, when we get out in transition,” Lawson said.

From the start of the first quarter, the Blue Devils were in control. After an early steal by freshman forward Jadyn Donovan helped Richardson put points on the board with a confident jumper followed by another soon thereafter. After six quick Duke points, N.C. State began to retaliate with two points of its own, but blocks and rebounds by the Blue Devils kept them at bay. Into the first media timeout, the Wolfpack was only really hitting airballs.

The second quarter opened up with sophomore guard Emma Koabel running down the court on the fast-break to sink an exhilarating layup. That was quickly followed up by an easy jumper from Mair. Determination set in for the Wolfpack, and both teams began answering each other with back-and-forth baskets. But the Blue Devils’ early lead kept them well ahead of their foes. 

With six seconds to go in the first half, the Duke crowd was already on its feet. Then, a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by sophomore guard Ashlon Jackson made the stadium go even more wild. 

At the start of the third quarter, both teams were pushing against each other, creating a mini-standstill from 9:14 to 6:55, after which N.C. State put up a layup. Duke responded with two threes in a row. Into the mid-quarter timeout, the Wolfpack was 20 points down from the Blue Devils. But after the timeout, N.C. State wasn’t happy, and junior guard Aziaha James put up two threes in a row, too. The Wolfpack crowd was beginning to roar, but the Blue Devils continued to keep their cool. Brown sank two layups in a row and Richardson made a three with 42 seconds left to re-establish Duke’s 20-point lead. 

“We knew they were going to make a run, and they made a couple at us,” Lawson said, “I thought we handled that pretty well, by being able to get stops when we needed them and then make enough plays.”

Still, the Wolfpack fought in the final quarter. Halfway in, N.C. State scored six unanswered points, highlighted by freshman guard Zoe Brooks stealing the ball for a gripping fast-break bucket. But that wasn’t nearly enough to bring the Blue Devils down. The Duke crowd kept dancing, and Blue Devils continued to ride their high. With 34 seconds left, the Cameron Crazies yelled a rousing “see ya!”

Lawson was enthused about the team’s performance. 

“I smile a lot when I'm observing them, because they've really bought into each other … they want to win with each other,” Lawson said. “That, to me, is the pinnacle of a team and why you coach team sports.”

Next up, the Blue Devils welcome Virginia to Durham Thursday before a Sunday rematch against North Carolina in Chapel Hill.


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