After a tumultuous back half of the season, it was only fitting that Duke’s seniors came out to shine in their final home game of the regular season.
No. 7 Duke extended their now-40 game winning streak against Wake Forest Thursday with a strong outing from their most experienced players on Senior Night. Three of the top four scorers on the night were seniors, with forward Haley Peters leading the team with a season-high 22 points, forward Richa Jackson adding another 15, and guard Tricia Liston finishing the trifecta with another 10.
“It says a tremendous amount about the seniors. They’ve all grown, getting better everyday,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I think their games are stepping up to a level that will help them not just at Duke, but in the future, when they go off to try other things.”
After losing key contributor and senior guard Chelsea Gray to injury back in January, the Blue Devils found themselves in a pinch once again when sophomore guard Alexis Jones tore her ACL over the weekend in a loss to Notre Dame. With Liston anchoring the position, Peters and Jackson stepped up to help fill in Duke’s shallow backcourt. Both forwards ran point guard against the Demon Deacons in order to make up for team’s injuries in the position. McCallie noted that the change will ultimately strengthen the play of her forwards.
“Richa’s got to handle the ball a lot at the next level, and the same is true for Tricia and Haley,” McCallie said. “You can’t just be a speciality item—there just aren’t enough spots at that level.”
It was late in the second half that the Blue Devil seniors seemed to truly click and display the chemistry that comes with playing four years together. With fifteen minutes to go, Liston smacked the ball out of the hand of her inattentive mark, sending it towards the Blue Devil basket. Peters dove for ball and transferred it to junior forward Ka’lia Johnson, who passed to Tricia for a layup, widening Duke’s lead to 49-39.
“It’s just us being together for four years and having chemistry,” Jackson said. “We always look for Tricia when she’s open, because she’s a great shooter. Me, Tricia, and Haley—we all just try to play as a team, even more so now. It’s been a great ride.”
In addition to her 22 points Peters had eight boards and made several key free throws in the final moments of the game that gave the Blue Devils the final edge.
“I think a lot of my turnovers happen when I’m hesitant and thinking too much,” Peters said. “Today I just wanted to be aggressive. I know that I’m better than how I played in our last game, and I just wanted to show it.”
Liston displayed her sharp shooting skills against the Demon Deacons, hitting two critical 3-pointers. Her first from long range opened the second half and put Duke up 36-38, while her second came in the critical final moments of the game to give the team an eight-point advantage. The guard was also essential on defensive for the Blue Devils, at one time halting a Demon Deacons breakaway layup with a vicious block.
The other standout on Senior Night was a freshman. Oderah Chidom contributed 10 points to the Blue Devils and matched a season-high 27 minutes. Chidom also notched 12 rebounds during the game including eight offensive boards.
“In that regard, she was the player of the game, without question,” she said. “What that does for our ability to get the ball back and do things—it was an incredible performance, and I hope she can build on it.”
Although in many ways it was the end of an era, Duke’s seniors said they didn’t feel the full weight of emotion during Thursday’s game. Part of the reason may be because the intense reconfiguring the team has had to do.
In addition, the Blue Devil seniors are guaranteed at least one more game at home when they host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament in March.
“We have so much that we’re working on with our team that it’s hard to get too emotional about it being the end because we have so much left to do,” Peters said. “We have so much left to find out about who we are, that it’s hard to think about it.”
After the game the four seniors said a few words to the crowd about their experience with Duke basketball. Usually playful and upbeat, Grey got emotional in her final sendoff.“When I came here, I knew that I’d have the best fans in the world,” she said. “Thank you all for the support. Go Duke”