Duke women can’t hold off Miami in ACC Tournament loss

A subtle defensive adjustment by Miami frustrated the Blue Devils, leading to a second round 61-55 elimination

Duke's Celeste Taylor (0), Lee Volker (13), Shayeann Day-Wilson (30) and Elizabeth Balogun (4) walk dejectedly off the court after their second round ACC Tournament loss to Georgia Tech. (PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

GREENSBORO — Duke scored 22 points in the first quarter of Thursday’s second round ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament game against Miami but managed only 33 more over the final three periods.

Given that fact, it would be easy to say that the Blue Devils looked like a different team after their hot start.

Only it was the seventh-seeded Hurricanes that did most of the changing.

A defensive adjustment that frustrated Duke’s shooters also led to 19 turnovers as Miami ended the 10th-seeded Blue Devils’ season — not to mention their NCAA Tournament hopes — with a 61-55 victory at Greensboro Coliseum.

“We completely blew the personnel scout in the first quarter and you could see the staff was so frustrated,” said Hurricanes coach Katie Meier, whose team advances into a quarterfinal matchup with second-seeded Louisville. 

“The players were frustrated at each other, they were yelling at each other like, ‘Come on, you know this.’ I don’t want to give it away, but there were certain specific personnel scouts that we were blowing and so Duke got 20 points in the first quarter. We adjusted and really kind of focused up.”

The adjustment was a minor one, but it made a huge difference in the way the Blue Devils’ offense flowed.

After scoring 10 points and making her only two 3-point attempts during the opening 10 minutes, Celeste Taylor scored only nine more — going 1 of 3 from beyond the arc — the rest of the way.

Teammate Shayeann Day-Wilson, the ACC’s Freshman of the Year, had an even tougher time. She had four points, four assists and only one turnover in the first quarter. But her performance dropped considerably after Miami took away some of her operating room by defending her tighter when she had the ball.

She finished with 11 points but went 3 of 13 from the floor (0 for 5 from 3-point range) with seven assists and four turnovers.

Duke’s Jade Williams scores over Miami’s Maeva Djaldi-Tabdi during Thursday’s ACC Tournament game in Greensboro. (PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

“We talk about four-to-six inches of difference,” Meier, a Duke graduate, said. “You take that six inches away from Celeste Taylor and in the second half you saw we made her put (the ball) on the ground a little bit. We had to close that six inches there. We had to gap up a little bit more on Day-Wilson and I thought we really did, clamped down.”

Despite their offensive difficulties, the Blue Devils (17-13) managed to maintain a lead for most of the first three quarters.

They led by one heading into the final period and extended the advantage to 44-41 after a pair of free throws by Day-Wilson and a steal that turned into a layup for Taylor. 

But things went downhill quickly from there.

Destiny Harden and Lola Pendande — who tied for team-high scoring honors with 11 points each — contributed all but two points in a 13-2 Hurricanes run that turned a three-point deficit into a 54-46 lead with 3:20 remaining.

Even though Miami (18-11) didn’t make another field goal the rest of the way, that was enough to put the game away thanks to Duke’s own inability to score down the stretch.

“Credit Miami. I thought they made winning plays down the stretch, made some tough pull-up jumpers to kind of separate from us,” Blue Devils coach Kara Lawson said. “We didn’t have enough there down the stretch, and they made the winning plays.”

According to Taylor, Duke made it too easy for the Hurricanes to make those plays.

“I think defensively is where we lacked,” she said. “We weren’t together. We let them do what they do, and I think that that really contributed to that downhill slope. But at the end of the day, teams go on runs. Basketball is a game of runs, so we had to find a way to lock in and play and continue to play, and we failed to do that.”