EXTERMINATORS: Duke women's basketball finds second-half rhythm, downs Richmond to open NCAA tournament

Jadyn Donovan reverses the ball over a Richmond defender during Duke's first-round NCAA tournament matchup.
Jadyn Donovan reverses the ball over a Richmond defender during Duke's first-round NCAA tournament matchup.

COLUMBUS, Ohio—It was a long trip and a very different environment for Duke, as the seventh-seeded Blue Devils trekked up to Columbus to play their first-round game against No. 10-seed Richmond. Despite the novel setting, Duke seemed perfectly at home. 

The squad from Durham went down early, before bouncing back in the latter two quarters en route to a 72-61 win in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Junior guard Reigan Richardson led the way with 25 points and seven rebounds, followed by 14 points from sophomore Ashlon Jackson.

“With our group, their first time doing this together, I'm just really proud of how they responded,” said head coach Kara Lawson after the game.  

Strong shooting from the Spiders, and a rough offensive period for the Blue Devils, had the stronger seed looking lost when the buzzer sounded after two quarters. Richmond led 37-28, and Duke heads were hung low going into the locker room. The remarkable shooting had put the Spiders thoroughly in control, despite their noticeably smaller stature.

That said, the Blue Devils came out of the locker room with some tempo. An early 6-0 run brought them solidly back into striking distance, forcing a Spider timeout to retool. The pace had improved, as had the shot choices. Duke was using its size inside much more effectively and to positive effects on the scoreboard. When Jadyn Donovan stole a pass and slid it outside to Jackson, she cashed it in from deep to tie the game. 

From there, the scoring returned to its back-and-forth nature. When Richardson knocked down a corner shot from deep, the Blue Devils took their first lead of the half and began to take off. The offense began to click, as the athletic advantage became more and more present. Jackson found another open shot from behind the arc, extending the lead as the shooting rate moved closer to its normal clip. With the Blue Devils leading 51-45, the Spiders called another timeout. 

“I just thought as the game wore on, we kind of got into our rhythm and had an idea of their actions and knew what was going on,” Lawson said. “And so we were able to combat those.”

Heading into the final period, the atmosphere was tense. Jackson drew first blood, once again from deep. The lead continued to expand, as Richmond’s morale continued to visibly diminish. The dagger came with a little more than three minutes left, when Richardson drained another shot from behind the arc to extend the lead to 11 and ice out the Spiders. 

The Blue Devils opened strong, establishing their defensive dominance quickly. While the Spiders are a strong shooting team, averaging a 37.7% clip from deep per game, Duke’s size showed out. The Blue Devils racked up 40 total boards, and 19 on the offensive end. Speed was also an advantage, exemplified by when Richardson broke out off a made foul shot, catching a long pass from Jackson and laying the ball in for the easy and-one. 

That said, the game stayed close. Richmond shot well from the field, pulling the Blue Devils out to the edges of the perimeter and opening up space to cut on the interior. Foul trouble was also an early concern, as Duke racked up four in the first quarter alone. 

In fact, by the end of the first period, it was the Spiders who seemed in control. A run of eight consecutive made field goals spurred the squad to a 26-23 lead against the Blue Devils despite a 13-point first quarter for Richardson. 

“I thought Richmond did a great job of executing, to be honest with you. And we had some breakdowns as well” Lawson said. “We had far too many defensive breakdowns. And that led to the eight threes at the half.”

The second quarter was a rough one for both squads, especially in the first minutes. After Richmond put one in the cup on a layup with more than nine minutes left in the period, neither team scored again until freshman guard Oluchi Okananwa managed to drop in a pair from the charity stripe with just under seven-and-a-half minutes remaining.

Offensive struggles, however, continued for Duke. The Blue Devils struggled to attack the zone defense, and quality shots were hard to find. The Spiders, on the other hand, continued to shoot the lights out. They went 8-for-10 from deep in the first half. After Okananwa’s points, Duke would not score again until 2:57 remained in the quarter through Emma Koabel, when it was already down 34-28. 

While the performance may have been rough to open, the Blue Devils found a way to pull themselves back into it to survive and advance. They will move on to a reunion of sorts, when they take on No. 2-seed Ohio State and former Duke star Celeste Taylor Sunday afternoon.  

“They're a great team. She's a great player,” Lawson said of Taylor and the Buckeyes. “We've got our hands full.”


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