DURHAM, N.C. — You gotta get the rust off.
Penn women’s basketball opened up the season at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday afternoon, taking on Duke to kick things off. The problem was, the Quakers showed up just a little too late, falling 68-55 to the Blue Devils (2-0) after Duke took a 13-0 lead to start things off.
"That's a tough way to start, especially in this environment," Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said.
A 13-0 deficit to open play is tough to overcome. Add in the road trip, a Power Five opponent and a series of early turnover issues, and you have the makings of a rough game.
Penn (0-1) was able to stop the bleeding thanks to six early points from junior forward Michelle Nwokedi to go with five first-quarter offensive boards between Nwokedi and senior center Sydney Stipanovich, but the damage was done.
"They work real well together, they're going to take us as far as we're going to go," McLaughlin said. "We do a lot of things around them. And they both, in this environment, I think did really well."
Stipanovich — the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year — struggled early from the field, going 1-for-6 in the first quarter as the Quakers fell behind, 26-14. Not helping the cause was a 2-for-13 effort from beyond the three-point arc to open play.
Buoyed by a line-drive three-pointer from junior Alexis Glasgow — playing in her first game after transferring from Northwestern a year ago — the Red and Blue took a little bit of momentum in the second frame, pulling within seven at one point, but 11 straight missed shots prevented the gap from getting any narrower.
Midway through the contest, that 13-0 run was the differential. The Blue Devils took a 35-23 edge into the break, driven by a 13-point performance from junior Lexie Brown — playing in her second game after transferring from Maryland following an All-American season in 2014-15.
It was the forwards who brought it back as the second half opened up. Stipanovich nailed a midrange jumper a minute in before Nwokedi sank a wide-open three after a Duke turnover, bringing it to 35-28.
After a mini Duke run, momentum stagnated and both teams struggled to get anything going offensively.
This remained especially true for the Red and Blue beyond the arc — finishing 6-for-27 on the day. It didn’t help either that Stipanovich spent extended time on the bench in the third quarter after tallying her fourth foul early in the period — though she did finish the game with a double-double on 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Any time Penn tried to make it close, the Blue Devils found a clutch three and the Quakers had no response. Nwokedi was a consistent force all over the floor — recording 24 points, 11 boards and three treys — but she alone couldn’t bridge the gap.
"Taking my game to the next step, I need to get open and shoot that three and be able to knock it down. So over the summer I've been working on it, " Nwokedi said.
At the end of the day, the Blue Devils made the shots they were supposed to. The Quakers didn’t. Duke jumped out to a 13-0 lead and that was the difference. Although an early deficit defined this game, an early loss doesn’t define a season.
Penn will have a chance to show that off — and finish shaking off the rust — this Wednesday when Binghamton pays a visit to the Palestra.
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