CLEMSON, S.C.—Three days after a sobering 30-point loss to Connecticut, the No. 4 Blue Devils arrived at Littlejohn Coliseum Thursday seeking redemption. Whether or not they found it in their 60-46 victory against Clemson Thursday is hard to say.
Duke (17-1, 7-0 in the ACC) went into halftime tied 22-22 with the Tigers, who it clobbered 82-45 just two weeks earlier, and trailed midway through the second half. But the Blue Devils rallied late behind sophomore guard Tricia Liston, who began the game on the bench with cold symptoms.
She did not let her sickness keep her down, though, tying her season high of 22 points in just 22 minutes of play.
“I was just focused on coming in and being aggressive coming off the bench,” Liston said. “I was trying to come in and do whatever my team needed me to do. At the time it was to knock down shots.”
Elizabeth Williams also came through with her second double-double of the season, tallying 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Duke seemed to be running on all cylinders early as an Alexis Jones 3-pointer gave the Blue Devils a 7-0 lead. Clemson (5-13, 1-6) quickly responded with a 6-0 run of their own, however, cutting the lead to one by the first media timeout. Despite Duke’s excellent first two minutes, the Blue Devils quickly regressed offensively.
Guards Chelsea Gray and Chloe Wells struggled penetrating the Tigers’ 3-2 zone. The lack of inside play might account for the fact that Duke only earned one trip to the free throw line in the first half. The Blue Devils had some success rotating the ball around the perimeter, but many of their possessions ended in careless turnovers.
Statistically speaking, the Blue Devils’ first half was jam-packed with benchmarks of the wrong kind. The team conceded a season-high 17 turnovers, scored a season-low 22 points and shot a season-low 31.0 percent from the floor in the period.
Head coach Joanne McCallie was not thrilled with her team’s offensive performance.
“Turnovers frustrated us all,” McCallie said. “Sometimes you just have to play the game simply—you know, making the easy pass. We had plenty of turnovers to go around.”
Clemson, by contrast, played relatively cleanly on both sides of the floor. Talented guard Nikki Dixon led the charge, finishing with 17 points and three steals. The Tigers’ also got some unexpected help from the bench, as sharpshooting sophomore Kelly Gramlich added 14 points and three rebounds.
Clemson head coach Itoro Coleman was happy with her team’s effort, especially for the first three-fourths of the game.
“I would say for 30 minutes we gave a good effort,” Coleman said. “But Duke did what they are supposed to do—we couldn’t finish the game.”
The Blue Devils’ second half surge was fueled in large part by Liston, who finished 4-for-8 from beyond the arc.
Team defense was also vital to Duke’s success in widening their lead down the stretch. The Blue Devils mixed in half court man-to-man, trapping zones, and full-court pressure.
“I thought the changing of our defenses—we played several different ones—I thought that was critically important,” McCallie said. “One of our defenses forced four turnovers, so the team did a great job. But sometimes too when you press, if you don’t really get it right, you can give away a bucket on the other end.”
Although Clemson had some success punishing Duke’s traps with easy buckets in the first half, they seemed to buckle under pressure late in the game. The Blue Devils forced a total of 31 turnovers, a season high.
With five minutes to play, Duke extended its lead to double digits for the first time that night. The two teams exchanged buckets for several minutes, but free throws by Chelsea Gray and Williams sealed the contest.
Duke’s 14-point margin of victory, though, does not accurately depict the closeness of the game. Clemson led with just 11 minutes left, but Duke’s talent and Liston’s hot hand eventually overcame what was by many accounts a lackluster team performance.
“Sometimes you have to win ugly a little bit,” McCallie said. “We had to be road warriors with this one.”