The Blue Devils overcame a late five-point deficit to avenge their only conference loss from a season ago in dramatic fashion.
Junior center Elizabeth Williams nailed the game-winning free throw with 1.7 seconds left and No. 3 Duke escaped with a 76-75 victory Thursday against Miami at the BankUnited Center. Williams—a 51 percent free throw shooter— converted the first of two attempts after snagging sophomore guard Alexis Jones’ missed jumper in the closing seconds.
Williams, Jones and senior guard Tricia Liston—who tied a career-high with 29 points—scored Duke’s final 10 points as the Blue Devils closed the game on a 10-4 run to remain undefeated in ACC play.
“I’m really proud of my team because of the fight that we had,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “That rebound that [Williams] had at the end of the game symbolized her strength. Tricia was fantastic—she showed why she’s a top guard, and I thought [Jones] was steady.”
Led by junior guard Suriya McGuire, Miami’s offense was firing on all cylinders in the first period. The Hurricanes made seven of their first 10 3-pointers of the game and shot 56 percent from the field in the first half. After an 18-4 Miami run, the Blue Devils (21-1, 8-0 in the ACC) found themselves trailing 37-26 with 6:04 left in the period.
Although McGuire did not make any treys herself, her penetration facilitated the Hurricanes’ hot start. She finished with 23 points and four steals and had Miami (11-10, 3-5) in position for its biggest win of the season.
“That uncharacteristic shooting in the first half hung on a little bit,” McCallie said. “I thought McGuire was the key. I’ve never seen [McGuire] play like that before. That was a terrific show by her. That was quite a game she had.”
The Blue Devils found an answer to Miami’s hot shooting and up-tempo style by slowing the game down, and Duke closed the first half on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 46-43 at the break. Liston—who had 21 points in the period—helped the Blue Devils control the tempo with her drives to the basket.
The pace was still methodical when the second half began, and Duke capitalized by going inside. Williams scored 14 of her 18 points and grabbed seven of her 12 rebounds in the frame.
“We tried to make the most out of every possession and concentrate on what we wanted to do,” McCallie said. “There were times [early in the game] when it got crazy and unnecessary shots went up, which I didn’t think gave us a chance to get to the free throw line. [Later in the game], we got to the free-throw line and controlled the tempo better.”
Although the second half was played more on Duke’s terms, the Hurricanes refused to go away.
Miami’s greatest accomplishment was winning the turnover battle. The Hurricanes committed just six turnovers for the entire game and forced 16 Duke miscues that were turned into 19 Miami points. Even though they went ice cold from behind the 3-point line, the Hurricanes led 71-66 with 3:30 left after a pair of McGuire free throws.
Just as they did last week in their overtime win at Florida State, the Blue Devils calmly responded to late adversity. Williams put in back-to-back layups and Duke shut down Miami’s perimeter game to earn three straight stops. The Blue Devils continued executing, finishing their next possession with a Jones jumper to take a 73-72 lead with 1:04 left.
“That was just part of the offense at that time,” Jones said. “I needed to attack and make the shot at that point in time. It was just executing the play.”
The back-and-forth play continued when Miami freshman guard Adrienne Motley—who had 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists—knocked down a pressure jump shot with 38 seconds and the Hurricanes retook the lead.
With a defense that was on its heels, Miami was unable to back up Motley’s shot with a stop, allowing Liston to convert an old-fashioned three-point play with 18 seconds left.
The Blue Devils were unable to close out the game after Liston’s clutch move because Richa Jackson fouled Miami’s Maria Brown just four seconds into the possession. Brown converted both free throws, setting up Duke’s dramatic last possession capped by Williams’ offensive rebound and game-clinching free throw.
“I’m really proud of the execution we showed at the end of the game [given the] time and score,” Liston said. “We never gave up and we finished the game out together.”
After prevailing in the nail-biter because of their late-game execution, the Blue Devils now face a showdown Sunday against No. 2 Notre Dame in what promises to be another tough test. One thing is for sure—Duke has plenty of experience playing down the stretch in tight games.
“The ACC is such a great conference, you can expect that coming into every game—that it’s going to be a tough game,” Liston said.