GREENSBORO, North Carolina—Nearly two months ago, the Blue Devils traveled to Coral Gables, Fla., where a strong fourth quarter from Miela Goodchild avoided an upset hurricane. Duke was then in 38th place in the NET rankings, while Miami was outside the top 55.
The Blue Devils of Greensboro, North Carolina sit No. 54 in the NET rankings on Thursday and are in desperate need of a win against a No. 50 Miami side. -55 loss likely ending its season. Miami head coach Katie Meier earned her first ACC tournament win over her alma mater, holding the Blue Devils to 32% shooting and forcing 19 turnovers and 19 fouls.
Combined guard Celeste Taylor led Duke with 19 of 8 of 15 points from the field and 3 of 5 on three, five rebounds and two assists against four turnovers; big wing Elizabeth Balogun scored 12 points — her highest total since Jan. 27 — on 5-of-11 shooting, with eight rebounds (five offensive), three blocks and five turnovers; and point guard Shayeann Day-Wilson struggled to 12 of 3 of 13 points from the field (0 of 5 from 3 points) and 7 of 10 from the line, six rebounds and six assists against four turnovers.
“That goes for everyone…I think [defense] this is where we lacked; we weren’t together,” Taylor said. “We let them do what they do. And I think that really contributed to that downward slope. But at the end of the day, the teams run errands; basketball is a racing game. And so we had to find a way to lock and play and keep playing, and we failed to do that.
The game was a cruel metaphor for how Duke’s season went: he came out shooting against a quality opponent, playing in a way that belied the newness of the team; then, as the going got tough, the chemistry slowly deteriorated, until the Blue Devils found themselves with their backs against the wall. Miami took its first lead with two minutes left in the fourth. And while Duke (17-13, 7-12 in the ACC) wasn’t going to go down without a fight, it ultimately wasn’t enough.
Offensive miscommunications, reckless turnovers and missed rotations proved too much to overcome. Each time the Blue Devils have pulled the game back within a point, they have shot themselves in the foot: Day-Wilson attempting a jump pass to a rolling Jade Williams, who was boxing in anticipation of a shot; Taylor gives up one-and-one on a 3-on-1 fast break to Miami; main guard Miela Goodchild bouncing a post-entry on a hurricane. From the six-minute mark of the fourth quarter until the three minutes remaining, Duke allowed Miami (18-11, 10-8) to score nine consecutive points. A questionable foul on Taylor in transition gave the Hurricanes a five-point lead with a minute to go. And that was all she wrote.
Miami scored first to start the game, snapping Duke’s five-game streak in which it had recorded the first points. The Blue Devils, however, took the lead midway through the first quarter with an offensive burst. In the first media timeout, Duke was just a bucketful away from a new season high against the Hurricanes. Day-Wilson had already had three assists, Taylor connected on her two threes and Balogun – making her third start in the past month – notched two offensive boards and a steal.
The Blue Devils closed the first quarter with 22 points, their most prolific spell in nearly a month. The coaching staff clearly felt the season on the line, getting creative with 5-1 reverse pick-and-rolls (i.e. Williams manipulating while Day-Wilson or de Jesus put on the screen ) and adding new wrinkles to Duke’s elbow sets.
“There were certain specific personnel scouts[ing points] that we were blowing, and so Duke got 20 points in the first quarter,” Miami head coach Katie Meier said. “We adjusted and really focused… We gave [Day-Wilson] too much space when she scored, and when we narrowed that gap a bit, we pushed her through.
Where the first quarter looked like the Blue Devils of winter 2021, the second quarter brought back the familiar Duke of February. The Blue Devils scored just nine points in that span, taking until 6:50 to score their second point. They nearly committed multiple shot clock violations and struggled to defend Miami’s pick-and-pops and stay ahead of its ball handlers as they rounded the DHO corner.
With Duke’s team passes and defensive closeouts failing to hit consistently in a timely manner, he had returned to the style of play that had helped create his meltdown in recent months.
The second half started no better than the first had ended, with the Blue Devils missing their first four shots from the field while committing three turnovers in the opening three and a half minutes. Akinbode-James’ work on the offensive boards and Balogun’s overall defensive effort kept the contest from escalating. But at media timeout, Duke had seen a nine-point lead after the first quarter fade to just two.
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ESPN’s Charlie Creme entered Duke into the Next Four of the NCAA Tournament in his most recent hiatus. But a loss to a Miami team ranked 74th in the Her Hoop Stats and thrown out of the NCAA Tournament is almost certainly enough to close the book on the Blue Devils.
“Obviously it’s really hard to let our seniors go and stuff like that,” Day-Wilson said. “But the class that we have – the freshmen that we have, probably other people that we have – they’re just going to come in and fix what we need, and what we’ve lost, and the parts we’ve got. And we’re just going to try to start from scratch and try to start better for next season.