Duke women's basketball locks up on defense, grabs first ranked road win of season against No. 17 Syracuse

Kennedy Brown shoves aside her defender during Duke's win against Syracuse.
Kennedy Brown shoves aside her defender during Duke's win against Syracuse.

Looking to bounce back after two consecutive losses against top-tier opponents in No. 19 Notre Dame and No. 8 Virginia Tech, it was never going to be an easy one as Duke hit the road to take on No. 17 Syracuse up north Thursday night. 

Despite the chilly temperatures outside and the chillier crowd inside the JMA Wireless Dome, the Blue Devils, riding the strength of an outstanding second quarter, found a way to come out on top of the Orange in a big-time 58-45 win. 

“It's a great win for us. We've been kind of waiting to see if we could get a signature road win,” said head coach Kara Lawson after the game. “Playing against a really good Syracuse team that's contending for the league title and just proud of our group.”

On the first possession of the second half, senior center Kennedy Brown came off the high screen, stealing the ball and taking it all the way herself for the easy fast-break bucket. Despite the early push, the Orange started to claw back into the game. With a 9-0 run punctuated with a stolen inbound and easy trip to the line, Syracuse had made it an 11-point game and successfully shifted the momentum in its favor after a wasteful first half.  

Once again, however, the Duke defense managed to stabilize the game. Forcing tough shots has been a hallmark for this group all year, and Thursday was no exception. Even as the offense sputtered, the Blue Devils (17-9, 9-6 in the ACC) refused to give up easy buckets. That said, foul trouble began to cause problems for the squad from Durham. Sophomore guard Taina Mair and junior guard Reigan Richardson found themselves with three before the end of the third quarter, and graduate center Camilla Emsbo picked a weak one up on a moving screen call. 

Despite a weaker period with foul trouble and offensive struggles, the Blue Devils managed to escape solidly in control of Syracuse (22-5, 12-4). Sophomore guard Ashlon Jackson hit a layup as time expired in the third quarter, extending the Duke lead to 47-31 and setting the visitors up for a straightforward final 10 minutes. 

Whatever head coach Kara Lawson said to her team during the break between the first two quarters, her team came out with a fire lit under it in the second period. One standout early was freshman guard Jadyn Donovan, who has put together a streak of solid games as of late. The freshman forward had 11 rebounds in the first half, including five on the offensive end. While Donovan has still struggled to find the finesse required to score with volume, her ability to create quality chances for her teammates and play strong defense on the other end of the floor has been key for the squad this year. 

“We felt like if we could compete on the glass and be physical, we'd give ourselves a chance to win the game. So to be plus 27 on the boards, I was just so proud of the group that was led by Jadyn [Donovan] with 15 rebounds,” Lawson said. “She had 11 in the first half and I thought just her energy and her physicality helped set the tone for us on that.”

Duke was dominant on both ends of the floor in the first half, shutting down the home squad with a suffocating defense and creating wide-open chances on offense. Mair had eight assists in the first half alone as she picked apart the Syracuse defense and fed her teammates all over the floor. An impressive shooting performance, combined with that trademark Blue Devil defense, had the visiting team up 35-17 at half, despite no single Duke player having made it to double-digit points.

It was a battle on the interior to open the game, as Duke used its quick passing to generate open looks and drive into the paint. Defense was the defining factor for both groups, as neither team was able to generate much momentum and blocks abounded. The Blue Devils struggled early with turnovers, having four travels called against them en route to racking up seven giveaways in the first period. Even with the sloppy play early, the defense shone through and the visitors found themselves up 14-11 at the end of the first quarter. 

More solid defense in the fourth quarter kept the game solidly out of reach from the Orange. Donovan grabbed the offensive board and kicked the ball out to Jackson, who drained the shot from behind the line to extend the lead to 20. As time ticked down, no amount of scoring or acrobatic play from Dyaisha Fair was going to pull her team back into the game. The Blue Devils left Syracuse with an impressively dominant win, beating a ranked team by double digits. 

“I've talked about it a lot, we hadn't had a big road one yet, we’ve had good road wins, but we hadn't had a big one,” Lawson said. “We've been close and so it just feels really good to pay that off.”

Now, Duke returns for a two-game homestand, facing off first against No. 6 N.C. State Sunday. Coming up against a tough Wolfpack squad for the second time this year, the Blue Devils will be looking to put together a stronger performance than their first go at the group from Raleigh. 

[The Wolfpack] kind of knocked us back over there in Raleigh,” Lawson said. “We'll get on the film and see if we can put together a better performance, compete a little better than we did in the first meeting. And it's what you want. You want the opportunity to measure yourself against the best teams and we'll have that chance on Sunday.”


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