Lexie Brown was expecting to have a lot of help in the backcourt this season, but with three guards on the bench due to knee injuries, she showed for the second game in a row she is capable of handling things herself.
Brown finished with 26 points on 11-of-13 shooting to lead a shorthanded Duke team past Maine 69-39 at Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday night in the 14th-ranked Blue Devils' first game in more than a week. Duke scored the first 14 points of the contest and led by double digits for all but the first three and a half minutes.
Point guards Mikayla Boykin and Kyra Lambert are both out for the season and graduate student Rebecca Greenwell sat out her second straight game with knee pain, opening the door for Haley Gorecki to have another big game as well. The redshirt sophomore guard had 13 points and a career-high 10 rebounds to complement Brown.
"The circumstances stink, but the fact that Haley’s been able to get these minutes really early is nice," Brown said. "We normally have so many guards in the rotation, which is a little tough, but Haley’s been killing it. We’re really blessed to have her and have her healthy. Now, we’re just waiting for Becca to get back.”
Gorecki knocked down a 3-pointer on the first play of the game to open the floodgates, but Duke (9-2) slowed down a bit after its initial 14-0 run, letting the Black Bears stay within striking distance for much of the first half. The Blue Devils committed 13 turnovers in the first 16 minutes, with the last one resulting in a breakaway layup for Blanca Millan off a lackadaisical pass from freshman Jayda Adams and forcing Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie to call a timeout.
"I just don’t like to give anything for free. No charity—I know it’s the holidays, but not on the basketball court," McCallie said. "We were really giving the ball up too much. The players are too good. It doesn’t match. I thought everyone did a better job as we went on.”
Duke came out of the huddle energized, using a 2-3 zone on defense to break the game open with a 12-4 run and take a 38-19 lead into the halftime locker room. Brown had two steals and open layups during the decisive stretch and scored 18 of her points in the first half.
"Making plays like that kind of pulls the team out of whatever defensive funk that we’re in at the time," Brown said. "Sometimes one person needs to make that extra effort, and hopefully the team will follow suit after that.”
Junior Faith Suggs got her first start on the wing in two years, as McCallie used a smaller lineup against a Maine team with no starter taller than 6-foot-1, and scored five points in a career-high 26 minutes on the floor.
The Black Bears' lack of size forced them to attempt to score almost exclusively from the outside in their halfcourt offense, with little success. Maine (6-6) shot 6-of-43 from long distance and only attempted 22 shots from inside the arc.
"To beat a team like Duke, you have to make a lot of threes. The teams that have upset Duke in the past have hit a lot of threes. That’s just the way it is against their zone," said Black Bears head coach Amy Vachon, who played for McCallie at Maine 20 years ago. "And we shot the ball horribly. When you shoot the ball 20 percent for the game, 14 percent from three, you are not going to win."
When the Black Bears missed, they rarely got a second chance until the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils finished with an 46-30 advantage on the boards, though Maine narrowed the rebounding gap from 24-8 at halftime.
Sophomore Leaonna Odom led the team with 11 rebounds and added a career-high six assists, but scored just two points and has combined for only 30 points in Duke's last five games after reaching double figures in five of the first six games.
"She has to be a lot more aggressive. We need players to be offensive minded. Whether it’s her teammates getting on to her to be that way or not, we have to have it all at this point in time," McCallie said. "Leaonna can do a lot more for us. Hopefully she’ll watch the film and see those spots where she can attack.... She turned down shot after shot to get those assists."
Duke will next take the floor Thursday night against Wyoming before a break for Christmas.