As the tallest team in the nation, the Blue Devils have been one of the top rebounding teams all year. They were just one rebound short of upsetting the top-ranked Gamecocks Sunday

No. 9 Duke fell 51-50 to No.1 South Carolina in a tightly contested, back-and-forth battle Sunday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

“It felt very much like an NCAA game and I thought it was a great game,” Duke head coach Joanne P.McCallie said. “Both teams worked really hard and I’m really proud of our team’s effort and fight.”

The Blue Devils (5-3) were done in by a putback by South Carolina freshman A’Ja Wilson off a missed floater by Tiffany Mitchell, which put the Gamecocks up one with just 1.8 seconds to go in the game.

“I just saw Tiffany attack the basket, which is what she was supposed to do, and the thing we emphasize most is rebounding,” Wilson said. “I knew whatever shot went up I had to go in and crash the boards, so I went in and it kind of just fell in my hands. “

The Blue Devils built an early 7-2 lead on the backs of a tenacious 2-3 zone defense that held the Gamecocks (8-0) to 21 percent shooting in the first half. The impact of the return of All-American Elizabeth Williams was immediately evident, as the center had four blocks and altered numerous Gamecock shots in the paint. When Williams exited the game with 5:39 left in the first half due to foul trouble, freshman Azura Stevens sustained a similar effort down low.

However, the Duke offense also struggled—shooting just 22 percent—and endured a 1-of-21 shooting slump that spanned nine minutes against a feisty Gamecock defense. The drought was finally ended with a coast-to-coast finish by redshirt freshman Rebecca Greenwell at the buzzer that gave the Blue Devils momentum going into haltime.

“We weren’t attacking and I think after we started turning the ball over, our team attacked more and got more aggressive,” McCallie said. “You have to attack the paint and that is where we lost the game. They have 32 points in the paint and we’ve got 24 and that’s where it is.”

South Carolina got off to a flying start in the second half fueled by the large Gamecock contingent on hand and used a 7-0 run to take a 24-21 lead—its largest of the game. South Carolina’s intensity coming out of the locker room frazzled the Blue Devils and a 35-foot 3-pointer by Asia Dozier as the shot clock expired pushed the lead to six points. With Williams picking up her fourth foul with 13:27 still remaining in the half, the Gamecocks looked poised to run Duke out of the gym.

“We did not come out with the right defensive intensity,” McCallie said. “We have to become a 40 minute defensive team and we’re just not quite there yet.”

The Blue Devils were held to a season-low 50 points on 31.6 percent shooting Sunday against the top-ranked Gamecocks, as they posted their third-straight loss.

But with better execution on offense and timely shots by senior Ka’lia Johnson, the Blue Devils were able to get back into the game and cut the lead to 36-34 with 9:42 remaining in the contest.

After trading buckets for the next six possessions, the Blue Devils regained a 41-40 lead on freshman Sierra Calhoun’s second 3-pointer of the half. Duke then converted a Gamecock turnover into two more points and held a three-point lead with 6:34 remaining in the game.

With the game in the balance, the Blue Devils went to Williams—the player they’ve relied on so heavily throughout the past four years. The All-American scored five consecutive points—her first five points of the game —during the span of three possessions.

“In the second half, I just tried to come out and bring energy to the team, rebound and do whatever I needed to help the team,” Williams said.

But the Gamecocks would simply not go away and missed a big chance to take the lead when Dozier could not connect on a wide-open corner three.

With 42 seconds remaining in the ballgame, Greenwell was able to draw contact taking the ball to the basket. The ensuing two free throws put Duke up four with just half a minute remaining.

But the Gamecocks would respond again. A tough 3-pointer by Mitchell was followed up by a steal by junior guard Khadijah Sessions and Olivia Gaines—who played only one minute all game—in the backcourt and gave the Gamecocks the ball down 50-49 with 10.9 seconds remaining in the game. After the putback by Wilson, Johnson’s halfcourt prayer as time expired fell short and gave the Gamecocks the hard-fought win.

The loss marked Duke’s first three-game losing streak since 2007-08. The Blue Devils will take a 10-day break before taking the court against Oklahoma Dec. 17.