Duke's biggest strength this season was supposed to be the return of its five experienced starters from a year ago, but it was a contribution from the bench that led the Blue Devils to victory Sunday afternoon.
Stepping in for a team hampered by early foul trouble, senior Richa Jackson scored 17 points as No. 3 Duke knocked off Boston College 78-57 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, notching the Blue Devils' 800th win in program history.
“The team played hard and had some really good contributions from a lot of different people,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I was really proud of Richa.”
After establishing control of the paint early in the game led by junior center Elizabeth Williams, the only thing that slowed the Blue Devils (16-1, 3-0 in the ACC) down was foul trouble, as starters Alexis Jones, Tricia Liston and Haley Peters all picked up two early fouls.
Jackson and the Duke bench had little trouble carving up the Boston College (10-7, 1-2) zone, racking up 18 points to allow the Blue Devils to take a 43-29 lead into the locker room after senior guard Chloe Wells swished a long 3-pointer with five seconds left in the half.
“We’ve never had that kind of foul trouble in any game we’ve ever played, ever,” McCallie said. “I thought Chloe’s dagger three was unbelievable—I thought that was worth 10 points. That’s the nature of a team—that’s different people stepping up at different times.”
Jackson was Duke’s leading scorer with a season-high 17 points off the bench. Peters added 15 and Williams notched nine points and 11 rebounds, including eight offensive boards. The trio also set the tone early in the game with their energy and intensity, traits that became contagious as the game wore on.
“I just wanted to bring a lot of energy [and] do whatever I had to do,” Jackson said. “Rebounding, defense, whatever it was, I just wanted to bring a lot of energy.”
With their aggressive defense the Blue Devils forced 14 turnovers in the first half and scored 17 points off Eagle miscues. Duke capitalized on its extra possessions from turnovers and six offensive rebounds—including four by Williams—by shooting 60 percent from the field.
Both teams struggled mightily shooting the ball early in the second half, going a combined 2-of-22 from the field to start the period. Although they shot just 33 percent from the floor in the second half, the Blue Devils were able to get to the free-throw line and extend their lead even though they were struggling to make shots—Duke finished the game with an 27-9 advantage in free-throw attempts.
“You want to get there at least 25 times a game,” McCallie said. “It’s important that we do that and get the ball inside, because if you become a jump shooting team, then you can [only] play even with people.”
Even though the Blue Devils shot just 63 percent from the charity stripe, the attempts slowed the pace of the game down and forced the Eagles to try to score against a set Duke defense, something they were unable to do consistently in the second half.
Boston College finally began knocking down outside shots late in the game, led by junior guard Kat Cooper, who finished with 21 points to lead all scorers. But it was too little, too late for the Eagles, as their 26-percent shooting clip in the final period and 9-of-34 shooting from beyond the arc squashed their comeback hopes.
“[Duke] really limited us on the interior and forced us to shoot perimeter shots,” Boston College head coach Erik Johnson said. “The difference in the game was they recover so fast. They [were] getting out to our shooters, so our percentage went down because we [were] rushing.”
The Blue Devils will try to use the lessons learned from their conference home opener when they take on Virginia Thursday. Duke will also need to get its point guard healthy, as senior Chelsea Gray played a season-low 16 minutes due to a bruised quad. Gray was effective during her short spurts on the court, finishing with 11 points and four steals.