NORMAN, Okla.—In their closest game of the season, the Blue Devils held off a furious second-half rally and earned head coach Joanne P. McCallie career win number 500.
No. 2 Duke overcame heavy foul trouble and a hostile crowd to beat No. 17 Oklahoma 94-85 Sunday at the Lloyd Noble Center. The Blue Devils dominated late in the first half, closing the frame on a 28-10 run to take a 46-27 lead into the locker room, but struggled for much of the second half because of turnovers and physical play from the Sooners.
Senior point guard Chelsea Gray and junior forward Elizabeth Williams each picked up their fourth foul with more than 10 minutes left in the game, but the other Blue Devil starters picked up the slack and made enough plays to preserve the victory.
Senior guard Tricia Liston had 23 points and five rebounds, senior forward Haley Peters had 18 points and sophomore guard Alexis Jones had 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists to help McCallie—now in her 22nd season and seventh at Duke—become the 30th active Division I coach with at least 500 wins.
“It’s exciting being able to be on this journey with her,” Liston said. “It’s just fun to help her get that 500th win and be by her side when she gets it…. Not many coaches do that. That speaks of [her coaching ability] a lot.”
The Blue Devils (10-0) frustrated Oklahoma in the first half by changing their defensive schemes and turning 15 turnovers into 17 points with crisp ball movement. Jones and Gray made it very difficult for the Sooners’ leading scorer, senior guard Aaryn Ellenberg, to get on track—Ellenberg had five first-half turnovers, and Gray had five first-half steals.
“We were really focused on transition defense,” Liston said. “We were making them work for all of their points, and that frustrated them a little bit. We got some good steals and really had good ball pressure…. Our fuel was coming from getting those steals and getting out in the open court.”
Oklahoma (6-3) adjusted at the break, though, showing much more aggressiveness and switching defenses themselves to keep the Blue Devils off balance in the final frame. Ellenberg and Sooner senior point guard Morgan Hook led the charge, finishing with 28 and 24 points respectively, and Oklahoma used a 13-3 run to get right back in the game.
Williams struggled throughout the game against Oklahoma’s bigger frontline, finishing with a career-low four points and fouling out for just the second time in her collegiate career.
With their best interior player neutralized, the Blue Devils were unable to slow down the Sooners in the second half, allowing 57 points, the most surrendered in a half during McCallie’s tenure at Duke, and also committing 10 turnovers.
“We’re still working towards 40 minutes,” McCallie said. “They came out with a different mindset in a second half, but we didn’t rebound as well as we would have liked and turned the ball over a few too many times…. We were kind of the Harlem Globetrotters out there. [There was] a lot of dribbling.”
The Blue Devils never surrendered the lead despite adverse conditions in the second half because they answered Oklahoma’s runs with punches of their own. Peters, in her second game back from an ankle injury, showed her versatility, making several key baskets from all over the court to prevent the Sooners from getting closer than five.
“Hayley Peters is their toughness,” Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale said. “Boy, what a difference she makes. She can do everything, and that kid does not take plays off.”
After her teammates preserved the lead, Gray sealed the win by making several clutch free throws after returning from the bench, finishing with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists.
After final exams, Duke will return to the court on Dec. 17 for the most anticipated matchup of the season, a showdown against No. 1 Connecticut (10-0) at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the Jimmy V Classic. Looking to bounce back from a disappointing second-half performance, the Blue Devils are also hungry for redemption after losing by 30 points in January to the Huskies on their home floor.
““The most important thing we need to do is get back from the second half and play our game,” McCallie said. "When we get this thing together, we’re going to be really good. When we get more cohesive and sharper-tuned, we’ll hit another level.”