The Blue Devils used a masterful second-half defensive performance to overcome a sluggish start and notch their second consecutive road win to kick off conference play.
No. 3 Duke beat Syracuse 86-53 Thursday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., led by senior guard Tricia Liston, who led all scorers with 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 5-of-7 from 3-point range, and grabbed eight rebounds.
"Tricia just keeps us steady, keeps the team steady," Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "It's important that we put the pieces together with strong glue, and Tricia is one of those players."
The Blue Devils erased an early 13-4 deficit and cruised to victory by sharing the basketball and covering Syracuse’s shooters. After hitting five of their first eight 3-pointers, the Orange went ice cold from the field, shooting just 27.9 percent for the game, scoring only 19 points in the second half and making just three of their final 30 3-point attempts. As Syracuse suffered through its drought, Duke shot 55.9 percent from the field and accumulated 27 assists against the Orange zone to pull away in the second half.
“It was a great, great team game—a terrific second half for our team,” McCallie said. “[I was] really excited that we could play well together and also defend extremely well, particularly in the second half.”
The Blue Devils (15-1, 2-0 in the ACC) were able to quickly overcome their slow start defensively by controlling the paint on both ends of the court, forcing Syracuse to attempt its high volume of 3-pointers and getting early production inside from forward Haley Peters. The senior had eight early points and finished with 10 for the game.
Although the Orange (11-4, 0-2) started their first home game ever in the ACC on fire—led by sophomore guard Brianna Butler, who finished with 14 points—they were unable to contain Duke in the paint and found their success from the outside short-lived. The Blue Devils enjoyed a 24-12 advantage inside and used an 11-0 edge in bench points to take a 43-34 lead into the locker room despite committing 13 turnovers in the period.
“I think the players just adjusted a little bit,” McCallie said. “Sometimes teams will do that—they’ll come out hot and everything, [but] it’s a long game. You have to keep your composure, you’ve [also] got to get a little mad about it, though…. Our team did that.”
With the Blue Devils holding a 54-43 edge with 12:46 left in the contest, junior center Elizabeth Williams sparked a 16-2 run that blew the game open, giving Duke a decisive 70-45 advantage. Finishing with 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks, Williams made just one of her first seven shots but scored 10 of her 14 points in the second half, knocking down six of her final seven attempts from the field.
After being held without a double-double through the Blue Devils' first 13 games of the season, Williams has recorded double-doubles in each of her team's past three games and was one of the keys to Duke's monstrous 56-20 advantage in points in the paint on the evening.
“Coach just told me to slow down a bit [in the second half],” Williams said. “I think I was rushing a bit in the paint [early in the game]. Of course, defensively,[I was] trying to be more aggressive, [especially] more aggressive shot-contesting on their shooters and translate that defense and move it to offense.”
Despite the impressive 33-point victory, Duke was still left with a major area of concern going forward: the Blue Devils will look to remedy their 20 turnovers—including a staggering seven by Peters and six from senior point guard Chelsea Gray, who had just two points. By taking care of the basketball, Duke will look to return to Cameron Indoor Stadium and give a full, 40-minute effort on Sunday in their conference home opener against Boston College, a team that will be reeling after a 42-point loss to No. 2 Notre Dame.
“I think we got a little impatient on offense and we had some silly turnovers,” Liston said. “But once we started moving the ball around and getting in a rhythm, we started having assist after assist and easy shots and easy baskets. At first it was a little slow, but after we started getting our stops, it flowed into the offense.”