Duke is a program that has exceptional tradition. They have recruited well and are therefore blessed with impressive talent. In 2014 they finished with the #3 recruiting class in the nation. In 2015 they were #1. However, even with all of those advantages the Blue Devils had a disappointing season last year. They went 20-12 (8-8 ACC) and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994.
The summer went even worse if that is possible. They lost their best player when Azura Stevens (18.9 pts, 9.6 reb) decided to transfer to UConn. They lost the crown jewel of that #1 2015 recruiting class when 5* Angela Salvadores (#5 overall) decided to return to Spain after only one year in Durham. The cherry on top of that awful sundae came when the school decided to investigate head coach Joanne P. McCallie for possible mistreatment of players and coaches.
Usually when a university undertakes this action it is because they want to dismiss the coach and they are using the investigation to justify the decision that they have already made. However, the administration at Duke obviously didn’t choose this route as McCallie survived the investigation.
With all of the turmoil swirling around the program there were many who didn’t expect much from the team this year despite the formidable talent still on hand. However, Duke has exceeded those expectations in the early going. Coming into this game the Blue Devils sat atop the ACC and only had one loss (77-73 at Vanderbilt) on their resume.
Duke has achieved this surprising start by being balanced on the offensive and defensive ends. The Blue Devils are 14th in the nation in offensive points per possession (1.086) and 6th in defensive points per possession (.74). FSU is 5th in OPPP (1.114) and 15th in DPPP (.76). Duke holds opponents to 33% shooting (26.7% 3PT). They have also outrebounded their opponents by five per game on the season.
Duke is led by 6’1 junior guard Rebecca Greenwell (18.9pts, 6.9 reb, .422 3PT). She is joined in the backcourt by Maryland transfer 5’9 junior Lexie Brown (18.1 pts, 3.47 ast). Greenwell and Brown (daughter of NBA slam dunk champ Dee Brown) combine to be one of the best backcourts in the ACC. They are joined by 6’4 senior Oderah Chidom (9.3 pts, 5.8 reb, 2.6 blk) and 5’9 soph Kyra Lambert (8.8 pts, 4.1 reb, 3.8 ast). This quartet provides most of the production for the Blue Devils.
Both teams struggled a bit early. The teams started out trading baskets and neither could get much breathing room. Then FSU went on a 6-2 mini-run to end the first quarter that was capped by a Leticia Romero (7pts, 6ast, 4reb, 3stl) jumper.
Romero started the second stanza by nailing a three ball to keep the run going. Lambert (12pts) responded with a layup but FSU responded with five straight points finished by a Imani Wright (14pts) three to put the Noles up 22-11. Duke called timeout and then Kendall Cooper (6pts) hit a jumper for the Blue Devils. From there both teams went into the cooler as over three minutes of game action went by without either team scoring. Brittany Brown (6pts, 5reb, 5ast) ended the drought with a layup to put Florida State up 24-13. From there the teams traded baskets and FSU went into the locker room with a 26-15 lead.
The teams started the second half trading buckets and then FSU made their move. The Noles went on a 12-2 run early in the quarter that was sparked by a Shakayla Thomas (22pts, 8reb) layup. Chatrice White (8pts, 5reb, 4blk) made a couple of free throws and the Seminoles had a 40-21 lead. From there the teams mostly traded baskets and FSU had a 45-27 lead going into the fourth.
Duke didn’t quit but at that point the game was effectively over. The Seminoles maintained a working advantage of around 20 points for the rest of the game en route to their 69-45 victory.
This was an important win for Florida State. To be sure it was a game that they should have won but they not only won; they played like the elite team we believe them to be.
FSU held Duke to 0-11 from 3 point range. Some of that is due to the vagaries of the three point lottery but FSU’s defense certainly deserves credit. That is especially true when you consider that Duke was shooting .405 from three before the game. That number led the ACC and was 6th in the nation.
The teams shot 27 free throws combined and only missed two. FSU was 10-11 while Duke was 15-16.
Shakayla Thomas (22pts, 8reb) had her best game of the year considering the opposition and her production. She was aggressive and confident. If she can use this game as a springboard for the rest of the year the Noles could be special.
It doesn’t get any easier in the ACC as the Seminoles will welcome #8 Louisville (15-3, 3-1 ACC) to Tallahassee at 7pm on Thursday, Jan. 12th. The Cardinals beat Pitt 73-52 in Louisville today.