After a sloppy first half, Duke found its rhythm and dominated the second period to take down Florida State 61-50 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The No. 5 Blue Devils (25-1, 15-0 in the ACC) registered their lowest-scoring first half of the season, but went on a 21-4 run in the final period to knock off the No. 19 Seminoles (20-6, 10-5 ACC) and remain perfect in conference play.
“It was a nice battle for our team,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We can certainly play a lot better. Shooting 34 percent isn’t one of our better games, but I loved our grit, our fight.”
In their first game back after losing junior guard Chelsea Gray to a dislocated kneecap, the Blue Devils definitely missed their assists leader and floor general. When freshman point guard Alexis Jones went to the bench with two fouls less than two minutes into the game, Duke played the rest of the opening period without it two primary ball handlers.
The Blue Devils subsequently turned the ball over 15 times and shot a season-low 25.8 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes. If not for junior guard Chloe Wells’ 3-pointer in the half’s waning seconds, Duke would have trailed heading into the locker room.
“We are a new team, it’s a new season,” McCallie said. “I feel like we just rushed layups that we should have made. We rushed a lot of shots. None of us can explain that. The important thing is that we go on as a team. We focus on this team being great.”
After coming out flat for the first eight minutes of the second half, the Blue Devils began to make their run and bury the Seminoles under a wave of defensive pressure. Buoyed by a large and unusually raucous crowd, Duke’s full-court pressure and aggressive half-court defense began to produce easy transition baskets and trips to the foul line.
“I could definitely feel the energy,” sophomore center Elizabeth Williams said. “We were getting so many stops defensively that it got the crowd involved.”
With 12:06 left to play, Wells received a pass from junior guard Tricia Liston and knocked down a 3-pointer to put the Blue Devils up by six. Jones then stole the ball on two consecutive possessions, allowing Duke to go up 38-28 for the first double-digit edge of the game.
“I thought when Duke closed the gap and started making that run and pulled ahead, the crowd made the difference,” Florida State head coach Sue Semrau said. “I think [Cameron Indoor] is the best arena in the ACC as far as the volume on the road. I thought it really took us out of our game a little bit. Certainly we didn’t get the production that we wanted.”
That run only continued as Haley Peters put home a layup with 7:24 to play, giving Duke a 20-point lead. The Seminoles made a late run, drawing within seven with 1:40 remaining, but the Blue Devils prevented the comeback and held on for their 15th-straight ACC win.
Duke limited its mistakes in the second half, keeping careless ball handling to a minimum and looking more like the Blue Devil squad dominating conference opponents prior to Gray’s injury.
Starting in Gray’s place, junior guard Richa Jackson played increased minutes and provided a spark on the offensive end, finishing with eight points, four rebounds and only two turnovers.
Wells also came up big for Duke, posting 15 points, three rebounds and a season-high six steals in 30 minutes of play coming off the bench. The Colton, Calif. native combined with Liston to shoot 6-for-10 from behind the arc, while Florida State managed to hit just 2-of-10 3-point attempts.
Both Williams and Haley Peters stepped up in the post, leading Duke to win the rebounding battle 51-39. Williams led Duke with 20 points, also adding 13 boards, while Peters pulled in a team-high 14 off the glass.
“[Peters] is a woman of steel,” McCallie said. “She was frustrated with her offensive game so she goes out and gets 14 rebounds…. I don’t know too many people who get 14 rebounds when offensively their game isn’t where they wanted it to be. That is one mean lady.”