With the score knotted at seven apiece, the Blue Devils gathered at the bench for the first media timeout of the season. Maybe it was rust or maybe it was their Division II opponent.
Yet, when Duke came out on the other side, it appeared a different team.
The No. 14 Blue Devils trounced Pfeiffer 113-36, at Cameron Indoor Stadium Thursday night in their first exhibition game of the season. The Falcons provided competition early on, forcing seven first-quarter turnovers from a Duke team that started sloppy. But, Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie’s squad turned up the defensive intensity a notch and began to pull away with ease.
“We’ve got be aggressive and find that happy medium [between under and over-agression],” McCallie said. “Our closeouts were better in the second half than the first.”
After a gritty drive from freshman Haley Gorecki led to an Azurá Stevens layup, a steal by fellow freshman Kyra Lambert jump-started the Blue Devils offense in the first quarter. Duke finished the period on 13-4 run and from there, never looked back.
“I think we rushed on offense,” McCallie said. “I don’t think we were really taking our time and really attacking…our team was getting used to playing with each other. [Later] we slowed down on offense and I thought that was key for us.”
Stevens’s basket was one of 12 on the night for her, as she led the team with 29 points and nine rebounds. The sophomore continued to build on her stellar 2014-15 campaign and her experience winning gold for Team USA’s U19 team this past summer. Unquestionably, Stevens appears to have returned to Durham with increased confidence as she enters as one of the team's key offensive weapons this season.
“That’s also something I’ve been trying to work on—is just staying calm,” Stevens said. “On offense we talk about, in practice, just being slow with the ball and not letting the defense rush you, so that’s something that I try to work on. So this was a good chance to try that out.”
Although the Blue Devils put up 113 points in the victory, it was the Duke defense that shined brightest throughout the evening. The Blue Devils held the visiting Falcons to a meager 23 percent shooting from the field and quickly backed their opponents into a corner. Duke caused 13 first-half turnovers and stunted a shot-happy Pfeiffer offense that attempted 26 3-pointers on the night.
Falcons guard Safia Sheikh recorded a team-high 11 points, but the rest of her team was outmatched for most of the contest. Besides the Copenhagen, Denmark, native, no other Pfeiffer player scored in double digits—a testament to Duke’s constant effort on both ends of the floor.
“It was a great experience for our team,” Pfeiffer head coach Tooey Low said. “I thought we came out really well. We’re going to be an aggressive, attacking team and we caught them a little off-guard early.”
Thursday was also the home debut for the Blue Devils' top-ranked recruiting class. Although McCallie held point guard Angela Salvadores out of the game, the other four newcomers made their presence felt early and often. McCallie opened the game with Lambert alongside Crystal Primm in the starting backcourt. Along with Gorecki and Faith Suggs, the four freshmen combined for 38 points and displayed their spry energy throughout the evening.
“I think that [the freshmen] have been doing well in practice and I think it carries over to the exhibition game,” McCallie said.“These are competitions against somebody else other than us and it’s important to go to our strengths. I think Haley really settled in in the second half…and I think everyone is getting comfortable with the defensive sets that we are trying to play.”
As the game wore on, Duke's momentum built as the team widened its margin to 46-21 at halftime. The second half saw more of the same as Stevens continued her nearly-perfect shooting night—she finished 12-of-13 from the floor—and redshirt sophomore Rebecca Greenwell put her mark on the box score as well. The guard came up with a pair of steals that led to two easy layups and four of her 17 second-half points.
Junior Oderah Chidom also put up impressive stats in just 12 minutes of play. Her 18 points, five rebounds and a perfect 6-for-6 mark at the free-throw line capped one of the best performances of her collegiate career.
“I’m actually able to play my natural position,” Chidom said when asked about her evolving role on the team. “We have a lot of good guards this year. They’ve made so many transformations from when they got here in July to now, so in time, we’ll see more of what was displayed on the court today.”
As a team, the Blue Devils outscored the Falcons 67-15 in the second half and ran away with the exhibition in dominant fashion.
It will be a quick turnaround for Duke as it returns to its home court Sunday versus Saint Leo. The Blue Devils’ final exhibition game will be a homecoming for former Duke player Missy West—who now coaches the Lions—in a 1 p.m. tipoff at Cameron Indoor Stadium.