Defensive solidity, shooting miscues characterize Duke women's basketball's chaotic ACC tournament loss to NC State

Taina Mair flicks the ball behind her for a reverse layup against N.C. State.
Taina Mair flicks the ball behind her for a reverse layup against N.C. State.

GREENSBORO, N.C.— A red sea flooded the stands Friday inside Greensboro Coliseum, with only small pockets of blue visible. This was nobody’s home court, but N.C. State fans showed up for their team in a way that was exponentially higher than Duke fans. And this no doubt had an effect on the Blue Devils’ performance in a game that was, by many measures, chaotic.

Despite the loss, head coach Kara Lawson remained proud of her team, citing its ability to fight as a win.

“Unfortunate for us, we came up on the short end,” Lawson said. “But proud of my group, how they just stuck with it.”

It was a fight, to be sure, and a chaotic one at that. The game often was an immobilizing back-and-forth between the two teams. Both the N.C. State and Duke’s defenses are known to be strong, and the teams butted heads defensively the whole game, causing extended scoring droughts on both ends. This was especially true in the final quarter when tensions were highest — neither team scored for nearly four minutes until the Wolfpack sunk a freethrow. Both coaches credited their opponents' defensive skill postgame. 

“You gotta give them credit, they do a great job and their defense, they deny passes,” N.C. State head coach Wes Moore said, “[They] really try to take you out of what you want to do.”

“They're a really good defensive team you have to credit them for, for making things hard for us,” Lawson said.

Given the defensive nature of the game, N.C. State’s win was less of a product of its offense. The team was not shooting much better than in its last contest with Duke — the Wolfpack only improved from 33.3% to 38.6% in field goals and maintained their 25% shooting from the 3-point line. 

But the Wolfpack’s measly shooting boost was nothing compared to the boost in intensity of N.C. State fans. Duke was not at home anymore, and its offense suffered more than usual. Although the Blue Devil offense was often able to get looks in, shots hardly fell, especially from beyond the arc. The Blue Devils went 1-of-13 for threes — and didn’t make any until the final quarter when junior guard Reigan Richardson broke the drought. 

“I thought we had quality looks … but we just didn't shoot it,” Lawson said. “That happens sometimes.”

Even when it really mattered, the shots didn’t fall. With less than a minute left and the board reading 54-51 in N.C. State’s favor, both senior center Kennedy Brown and sophomore guard Taina Mair could not sink their attempts from the 3-point line to even the score. 

“Our decision making was poor in that fourth quarter,” Lawson said. “And when we had opportunities we didn't finish or when we had a possession that really mattered, we didn't execute.”

Even sophomore guard Ashlon Jackson, who currently leads the team in 3-pointers, faltered, going 0-of-3. Jackson had to be subbed out twice during the game for injuries, first for a lower-body injury and then for a face injury. This interrupted the team’s momentum.

Still, the Blue Devils had their moments. From the end of the second quarter into the third, they went on a 12-0 run to pull themselves back into the game. Duke’s ability to steal back the ball held strong, freshman guard Jadyn Donovan racking up three by herself. Most of the Blue Devils’ scoring relied on getting the ball in the basket in transition, much the same as the team’s last faceoff with the Wolfpack.

“We're an efficient team in transition, when we run, so it definitely is a point of emphasis for us in every game,” Lawson said, “I did think we had some good transition opportunities where we were able to finish.”

Limiting mistakes while preserving its defensive rigidity will be paramount for Duke as the NCAA tournament looms. Games in even more hostile environments promise even more chaos — the question now turns to how steady these Blue Devils can stay.


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