WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.— Early in the year, the Blue Devils’ offensive execution routinely failed to make the trip on the road this season.
Its tardiness Thursday once again put Duke in early danger of an upset, until the Blue Devils locked in with a gritty post performance that led them to a sixth straight rout.
Despite turning the ball over eight times in the first quarter, No. 13 Duke took down Wake Forest 79-53 Thursday at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, using a bigger lineup against a strong rebounding team en route to a decisive edge on the boards. Senior forward Oderah Chidom led the way for the Blue Devils with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting and a game-high eight rebounds, lifting her team from a lethargic start to 46 paint points thanks to several decisive post moves.
But her grit in the post did not come without a cost—she chipped off the bottom half of a tooth after being struck diving for a ball midway through the fourth period, eventually returning to the game after a brief rest on the bench.
“Oderah played a beautiful game,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “[She was] very demanding of the ball, finishing, just playing her game—a very physical game. But she’s happy about that. She gave part of herself for this game. We’re going to fix her up. Boy, I sure like when she plays that way and she looks nicely mean.”
Junior Lexie Brown once again caught fire after halftime, leading a Duke spurt toward the end of the third quarter and leading all scorers with 24 points. Redshirt junior Rebecca Greenwell added 18 points and seven rebounds in Duke’s second rout of Wake Forest this year.
Although her team usually leans on its standout backcourt duo of Brown and Greenwell, McCallie came out with a bigger starting lineup that included both Chidom and fellow senior Kendall Cooper to attempt to neutralize Wake Forest on the glass.
The Blue Devils (23-4, 11-3 in the ACC) had gotten in the habit of starting speedy forward Leaonna Odom instead of Chidom to get more versatile up front, and the change initially appeared to slow down Duke’s offense early in the contest.
But despite a slow start that saw the Blue Devils only up 13-11 at the end of the first quarter, the decision to play big paid off as Duke eventually erupted for 29 third-quarter points to run away from the Demon Deacons (14-12, 5-8).
Even in the first half when the Blue Devils struggled with 12 turnovers, Duke limited Wake Forest’s offense and slowed down the ACC’s top rebounder, Milan Quinn—who finished with just five points on 1-of-6 shooting—to maintain a seven-point lead heading into the locker room.
Chidom was key to Duke maintaining the lead despite a sluggish first-half effort that featured seven traveling violations, posting 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting in the first 20 minutes. By forcing a steal on an errant pass and hitting Chidom for a layup in the post, Greenwell swung the momentum in the Blue Devils’ favor, sparking a 11-0 second quarter run to give the Blue Devils a commanding 26-13 lead.
“We just calmed down a little bit,” Brown said. “They came out really aggressive on the defensive end. I want to give credit to Oderah. She kept us steady, she kept us ahead in the whole first half, she was our calming force.”
But with less than four minutes to play in the second quarter, a 10-4 Demon Deacon run cut Duke’s halftime lead to 30-23.
That was the home team’s last momentum swing of the night, though, as Brown scored nine points in the third quarter and caused several of Wake Forest’s 21 turnovers to change the complexion of the game. The Blue Devils had no problem turning steals into easy layups, finishing with 21 fastbreak points by playing off their 10th-ranked scoring defense.
The sequence in which Chidom hit the deck hard was one of Duke’s few question marks in the game’s final minutes, as the Oakland, Calif., native appeared pretty banged up before returning to the court.
“Initially, I was just a little traumatized. My tongue hit my tooth and it wasn’t there,” Chidom said. “But once I calmed down, I felt fine.”
Chidom and her two co-captains ended up outscoring Wake Forest by themselves, giving the Blue Devils more to be excited about as they try to seal top-four seeds in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
After holding a sixth straight opponent to 55 points or fewer, Duke will return home Sunday to take on No. 16 Miami as it eyes a sixth top-20 win on the season heading into the regular season’s final week.
“The team is getting better, our defense is getting better, our transition definitely got better tonight,” McCallie said. “We’re trying to put these parts together and we’re just excited for this game and next and to see what we can do.”