OH-NO: No. 7-seed Duke women's basketball shocks Ohio State in Columbus, books spot in Sweet 16

Reigan Richardson goes up for the layup against Celeste Taylor.
Reigan Richardson goes up for the layup against Celeste Taylor.

COLUMBUS, Ohio— The Blue Devils are not done dancing just yet. 

In front of a packed house at the Schottenstein Center, No. 7-seed Duke delivered an instant classic in the Round of 32, knocking off No. 2-seed Ohio State and former Duke star Celeste Taylor by a score of 75-63 to send the Blue Devils to the Sweet 16. It took a major comeback for head coach Kara Lawson’s squad, as they trailed by as many as 16 at one point, but the visitors surged back behind a career-best 28 points from junior guard Reigan Richardson to clinch the victory. 

“I just continue to be proud of our team and they keep maturing even at this late stage in the season. We continue to grow, we continue to just trust in each other, trust in the scheme,” Lawson said.

Duke began the second half stringing together stops, but it could not get out of its own way, as Richardson and Kennedy Brown had back-to-back turnovers in the post. Brown knocked down a layup to cut the lead to two, but Cotie McMahon continued her fantastic afternoon, making two straight layups and then draining two shots from the charity stripe to put her tally up to 20 and the Ohio State lead to six. 

Both teams continued to trade buckets that allowed Duke to hang within one basket of the lead. After Taylor fouled Richardson hard on a fast-break layup, the Blue Devils were as close as they had been to the lead since the opening tip, as they only trailed 44-43. But once again, McMahon delivered for the home team, getting a tough finish on Oluchi Okananwa that sent Duke into the media timeout down three. 

After another sequence of stops that was highlighted by two steals from sophomore guard Emma Koabel, Duke found itself behind just one point once again. This time, the Blue Devils struck gold, as Richardson rose up for a layup that tied the ballgame, and Delaney Thomas got one on a fast break to put the visitors up two, forcing Ohio State head coach Kevin McGuff to take a timeout. 

“You look at Delaney today, you look at Oluchi and Jadyn against Richmond, they're ready to go now,” Lawson said. “That's a testament to our veteran players, but it's also a testament to those freshmen that they're confident that they can make plays, we've seen Delaney do this all year.”

The remainder of Duke’s game was likely to be determined on how well it could defend McMahon, and it found its first glimpse of success right at the end of the third quarter, as the sophomore center’s attempt was swatted by Camilla Emsbo who banked in a layup on the other end and sent Duke into the final period up one. 

McMahon went right back to work to start the final quarter, drawing a foul on Jadyn Donovan and putting the Buckeyes back up one, prompting a full house at the Schottenstein Center to rise to their feet. Brown shut those cheers up immediately though, converting an and-one that put Duke back up two before another seemingly inevitable bucket from McMahon. 

“I thought McMahon was terrific but we were okay with that in the sense that they were contested twos down there," Lawson said. "I didn't like that we fouled her so much but they weren't threes."

After Richardson stole the ball after a miss, Duke made arguably its most important play of the game up to that point, as Thomas drove to the hole and drew Taylor’s fifth foul, relegating the former Blue Devil and the Buckeyes’ best defender to the bench for the remainder of the contest. 

Brown committed fouls on both ends to give her four on the day and put the Buckeyes up one. Richardson extinguished those flames rapidly, as Okananwa found her in the corner for a great look from deep that the Charlotte native drained to put head coach Kara Lawson’s group up two at the final media stoppage.

Out of the timeout, Duke kept the pressure on, as Richardson knocked down two jumpers to put the lead up to six, the largest of the day. The junior just simply could not be stopped, knocking a free throw to put her up to 26 points with two and a half minutes to go. That total jumped to a career-high 28 just moments later, as she knocked down a runner that put Duke up 66-59. 

"Once I hit my first shot, I was kind of feeling it already and then my teammates did a great job of setting screens or doing whatever it took to get me open," Richardson said. 

An Ashlon Jackson free throw pumped the lead up to 10, sealing the hosts’ fate.

While the Blue Devils finally knocked down some shots courtesy of Jackson and Richardson jumpers, Ohio State refused to let up, drawing five fouls by the second-quarter media timeout and finding buckets at the rim to lead 30-17 at the stoppage. Duke finally found its offensive rhythm midway through the quarter, as it made four straight shots including a Richardson three to cut the lead to 10. 

The hot shooting continued on both sides down the final stretch of the first half, with Duke making seven of eight shots capped off by a Brown layup after a stolen inbound pass that cut the Buckeye advantage to eight and forced the home team to take a timeout. Thomas knocked down two free throws after an offensive rebound, and a Richardson stepback jumper over Taylor had Duke right back in the game at the half — trailing 36-32. 

The Buckeyes are known for employing a full-court press, and this strategy paid dividends early. Although Okananwa was able to break it for a bucket on Duke’s first offensive possession, its fortunes were not so great the next time around, as Taylor intercepted an errant pass at midcourt and converted an easy bucket to make it 7-2. 

Taina Mair served as the engine of the offense during the first quarter, as the sophomore point guard tried to bounce back from a scoreless performance against Richmond, repeatedly driving to the basket and drawing fouls, shooting five free throws in the first period and keeping the Blue Devils afloat despite having a 8:05 stretch to finish the first — extending three-and-a-half minutes into the second — where they did not score a basket.

"There's a shock factor because of their athleticism and their pressure and our players," Lawson said. "We haven’t played them yet, so maybe teams that played them regularly get a chance to understand and feel that, we didn’t. So it rattled us to start, there's no doubt you have to credit them for that."

The Buckeyes stayed in control to begin the second, as point guard Jacy Sheldon drove right at Okananwa and drew a foul. The freshman guard then committed an offensive foul on the other end, knocking her out of the game for the rest of the half. As Duke continued its horrid stretch where it did not make a field goal, the home team kept tacking on, as Rebeka Mikulasikova and Taylor made tough layups to push the lead to 25-10.

The Blue Devils will travel to Portland, Ore., for the Sweet 16, facing the winner of No. 3-seed UConn and No. 6-seed Syracuse. 


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