Duke women's basketball rallies after stunted start, turns it on in second half to take down Wake Forest

Jadyn Donovan pulls up for a midrange jumper against Wake Forest.
Jadyn Donovan pulls up for a midrange jumper against Wake Forest.

After a quality road win against Pittsburgh the week prior, Duke hosted Wake Forest, hoping to pick up a key win against a team 0-10 in its ACC contests.

Despite first half turmoil, the Blue Devils took care of business, beating the Demon Deacons 69-46 in a Thursday night battle at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Taina Mair and Oluchi Okananwa led the scoring effort for Duke with 17 and 16 points, respectively, while Jadyn Donovan grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.

“As a coach, you’d love to play four great quarters,” said Duke head coach Kara Lawson. “It’s not going to be like that. And so what you’re looking for is … a team-wide response to a bad quarter, a bad half. And we have that response.”

Duke (15-7, 7-4 in the ACC) exited the halftime locker room a changed team. On Duke’s first possession, Donovan scored her fourth field goal to pull it within five. Mair then converted two free throws after absorbing a blow from Alexandria Scruggs. On the next time down, the floor general took advantage of a Wake Forest defensive miscommunication to lay in another set of points. Two Kennedy Brown layups later and the game was knotted at 30 apiece, the first time since early in the first quarter. The momentum swing was capped by Jackson, who charged at the cup with a head full of steam and converted a layup through contact. The and-one ignited the Cameron Indoor crowd.

Jackson continued her hot hand, attacking the Demon Deacon defense with intention. The sophomore swished one in from the elbow before converting a wide-open three ball on an inbound play. As Wake Forest (4-19, 0-11) missed its first 3-pointer of the game, Duke cemented a 14-0 run in under four minutes with a Reigan Richardson reverse layup. An athletic, leaping block from Jackson put a perfect cap on a dominant third quarter with the Blue Devils leading by 13. Duke held Wake Forest to five third quarter points, the second-fewest allowed in program history.

In the fourth quarter, a free-flowing Mair found her groove, with two shots finding the nylon. The sophomore transfer from Boston College then kissed a high-arcing layup off the glass, before taking it coast-to-coast on the next possession to push the Duke lead to 17. Her eight fourth-quarter points forced a Wake Forest timeout, and drove a stake into the heart of any comeback hopes.  

“We needed to put some accelerant into our transition game,” Lawson said. “I thought [Mair] was terrific just probing and getting to the paint and finishing … she’s tough [and] she's competitive. We needed those points from her tonight”

Duke’s defense was the story early. Not allowing a bucket for nearly the first five minutes of the game, the Blue Devils made the Demon Deacons’ life difficult near the basket. Their efforts were personified by a sequence from Brown, who dove on the floor in a scramble to create a jump ball. Although the possession arrow favored the visitors, Brown then pressured an errant layup, and Jackson drew a charge to recover possession for Duke.

However, the Blue Devils’ kryptonite was also out in full force: turnovers. Duke turned the ball over nine times in the first eight minutes, a clip which included sloppy passes and travels. On the first play of the game, a cutting Richardson driving towards the basket had three defenders collapse on her and she turned the ball over, unable to find an outlet. On the following possession, Jackson traveled trying to get a step on her defender towards the bucket. Instead, those errors combined with two quick fouls for Brown, the defensive anchor, gave Wake Forest  an opportunity to capitalize. 

The Demon Deacons made Duke pay for its transgressions, as Raegyn Conley splashed a three from the corner to pull Wake to within one, followed by a feed to Malaya Cowles down low, who used her weight advantage against Camilla Emsbo to muscle Wake Forest out front. A Kaia Harrison triple from well beyond the arc with 2:54 to go in the first quarter drew shrieks of approval from the visiting bench, with the Demon Deacons comfortably controlling the contest with a 10-point advantage. Another three, this time from Kate Deeble, made Wake Forest a perfect 4-of-4 from range in the quarter, and sent the shellshocked Blue Devils into the second period down 13 points.

“We had 13 turnovers there in that first half,” Lawson said. “Obviously, in our league, it’s tough. Every night, it’s a grind. And I just thought we were a little stunned.”

Once that period came, Duke showed some effort to claw back. Donovan broke the scoring drought with a skilled layup, followed up a few minutes later by a neat drive, stop and floater from Richardson. Mair then worked off her dribble, creating separation and popping in a two from the elbow. Freshman Okananwa also converted Duke’s first 3-point field goal of the game, cashing in from the corner. 

However, the Demon Deacons could not miss from beyond the arc. Despite shooting just 28.2% on the year, Wake Forest was a perfect 6-for-6 from 3-point territory, with five different scorers. Just when a Mair three finally pulled Duke within single digits, a missed layup by Okananwa was followed up by another turnover, the 13th of the half, sending the Blue Devils into the locker room down seven. Duke’s 20 first-half points was its second-lowest total on the season. 

“I felt fortunate we were only down by seven to be honest with you at halftime given how poorly we played and how well they played,” said Lawson.

Duke’s attention pivots to Sunday afternoon, as the Blue Devils take on Tobacco Road rival North Carolina in an intense showdown at Cameron Indoor. 


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