In their first game without sophomore point guard Alexis Jones, the Blue Devils were able to hold on and secure a much-needed victory.
No. 7 Duke defeated Wake Forest 71-56 on Senior Night Thursday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. With the win, the Blue Devils are now locked in as the No. 2 seed in the ACC tournament next week.
“I don’t think we were surprised at all [that we could win without Jones],” senior forward Haley Peters said. “We have a lot of really talented players, and I think it was more about how it was going to look—how it was going to fit together—in the new season that we’re in.”
The Blue Devils (25-4, 12-3 in the ACC) led from the opening tip, but the game was much closer than the final score would indicate. Wake Forest (14-14, 5-10) kept the game close the entire way, trailing by just single digits for most of the night and closing the gap to within three at one point in the second half. Duke finally secured the victory with a clutch 3-pointer from senior guard Tricia Liston that extended the Blue Devils’ lead to eight with just 1:40 left to play.
“Tricia is a big part of our offense,” senior guard Richa Jackson said. “We definitely look for her when she’s open because she’s a great 3-point shooter. I feel like we found her—she hit a very critical three that we very much needed.”
The other two seniors in the starting lineup—Peters and Jackson—made their presences felt throughout the game as well. Jackson finished with 15 points in an efficient 6-of-10 shooting performance, while Peters scored a game-high 22 to go along with eight rebounds and four steals.
“It was a super effort by everybody,” head coach Joanne P McCallie said. “I thought Haley was fantastic—not only in our defensive schemes, but attacking off the press and just being really aggressive. Richa, I thought, played a role of composure, moved the ball, found people and also had a terrific game.”
But it wasn’t just the seniors that contributed to the victory for Duke. Freshman forward Oderah Chidom had one of her best games of the season, coming off the bench to contribute nine points and a game-high 12 rebounds—eight of which came on the offensive glass.
“She was everywhere,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “She was everywhere going after the ball, getting those O-boards. For anybody to have eight offensive rebounds in the game—in that regard she was the player of the game, without question.”
Chidom’s performance helped the Blue Devils to dominate Wake Forest down low—Duke outscored the Deamon Deacons by 20 points in the paint and outrebounded them by a 40-28 margin. Those efforts helped to offset a subpar outside shooting night by the Blue Devils, who shot an uncharacteristically poor 3-of-12 from beyond the arc. For the season, Duke leads the ACC in three-point shooting at nearly 42 percent and averages almost six 3-pointers per game.
Duke switched up its normal defensive tactics against Wake Forest, employing a zone defense instead of its usual man-to-man pressure scheme to combat the quickness of the Deamon Deacon lineup. The different look paid dividends, as Wake Forest was unable to consistently get the ball inside against the Blue Devils’ zone. The Deamon Deacons hit just 9-of-28 field goal attempts in the first half—including only 3-of-13 from beyond the arc—and shot just 33 percent for the game.
“I thought we really struggled at first a little bit to get [the ball] inside,” Wake Forest head coach Jen Hoover said. “Maybe their length was giving us some problems there, and we really needed to hit some outside shots.”
Junior forward Dearica Hamby—Wake Forest’s primary offensive threat and the ACC’s leader in scoring and rebounding—struggled to find easy shots against the tough Duke defense. Hamby posted a solid line of 20 points and nine rebounds, but shot just 6-of-15 from the field—well below her season’s average of 56 percent. Senior guard Chelsea Douglas—the Deacon Deamon’s second leading scorer—pitched in for 19 but also shot only 6-of-15 from the floor.
“We attempted to slow down their big threats,” McCallie said. “Both ended up with 20 [points], but I do think we made them work very hard for the points that they got.”
As tournament play draws nearer, the Blue Devils now have just one final regular-season game left on the slate—a rematch with rival North Carolina. The Tar Heels knocked off Duke 89-78 February 10 in Cameron Indoor, but the Blue Devils feel as if they are a different team now than they were earlier this month.
“I think that throughout the game [today] we were finding out more about who we are now,” Peters said. “I think that by the end, we kind of knew. We played to a little bit of how good we can be today. We know that there’s so much more for us to do.”