GREENSBORO, N.C.—For the third time in five weeks, the Blue Devils had no answer for Kayla McBride and Jewell Loyd.
No. 10 Duke fell 69-53 to No. 2 Notre Dame in the ACC Championship at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. The Blue Devils played the first 20 minutes of the game at their pace, holding the Fighting Irish scoreless in transition and allowing just five points off turnovers—Notre Dame came in averaging 87.2 points per game, but could only muster 28 in the first period Sunday.
Loyd and McBride made sure the second half would be different, scoring 28 of their 51 total points in the period and sparking a 16-2 Fighting Irish run that put Notre Dame up for good. The pair scored 40 points or more in all three games against Duke this season and was instrumental in quickening the tempo of Sunday's game. The Fighting Irish turned 13 second-half Duke turnovers into 18 points and had eight points come in transition.
“We didn’t do much of anything with McBride and Loyd,” McCallie said. “Between not really finding them at times and the turnovers—that cost us. We’re very disappointed to not finish and do what we do. The turnovers cannot happen—we have to slow down. The second-half turnovers were horrific.”
The Blue Devils (27-5, 12-4 in the ACC) used their dominance in the paint to control the tempo of the first half. All-American center Elizabeth Williams and senior forward Haley Peters scored 20 of Duke’s 28 points in the period and the Blue Devils enjoyed a 20-6 advantage in points in the paint. The first half was a possession-by-possession contest that saw six ties and seven lead changes.
Although McBride and Loyd were knocking down jump shots to fuel the Fighting Irish (31-0, 16-0) offense, their buckets were coming in the halfcourt and on Duke’s terms because of the performance by Peters and Williams.
“I thought Elizabeth was absolutely outstanding,” McCallie said. “It was really a dominant performance by her. I thought Haley was just a fierce competitor—as she always is—rebounding and looking to score. It was very physical, so those paint opportunities [were] key.”
Although Peters and Williams continued producing on both ends of the court in the second half—finishing with 33 points and 22 rebounds combined—Duke’s guards were unable to get them the ball enough to keep the game close.
The Blue Devils made two early baskets in the period to take a 32-28 lead with 19:07 left in the contest, but went 1-of-6 from the field and committed four turnovers during the next 5:03 to fuel Notre Dame’s 16-2 spurt.
Loyd—the tournament MVP—scored 10 of the points herself, including a personal 8-0 run after Duke took its four-point lead. The Fighting Irish got everything going from that point on, finding Loyd and McBride for open jumpers and attacking in the paint—Notre Dame put up 20 points in the paint in the second half.
“I think it was a matter of focus and concentration,” Williams said. “Like Coach P. said, we bugged out of some of our offenses, and defensively, I think we started cheating out to shooters and the left the paint a little more open. We just have to be able to adjust better.”
Defensively, the Fighting Irish were determined to take away Duke’s leading scorer—senior guard Tricia Liston. Liston finished 2-of-11 from the floor and had four turnovers—three of which were charges.
Her fellow backcourt mates—Ka’lia Johnson and Richa Jackson—also struggled, going just 4-of-14 from the field and committing seven turnovers. Duke was unable to make any 3-pointers and unable to find any favorable matchups on the perimeter with their most consistent scorer neutralized.
“They really went after [Tricia], and they did a great job,” McCallie said. “My heart goes out to her—I mean three charges, I’ve never seen that before by Tricia. She was frustrated—they played good defense, they played very physical, and we needed to continue to execute and be patient. The turnovers that she had were uncharacteristic.”
Once Duke fell behind by double-digits, the Blue Devils looked much more like a weary squad with a limited bench playing its third physical game in as many days. Duke went just 3-of-12 from the free throw line in the second half and continually shot itself in the foot with its mental errors.
The Blue Devils will try to find more consistency and build on the positives from the weekend during the next two weeks before the NCAA Tournament commences.
“We’ve got to own up,” McCallie said. “We’ve got to learn and certainly be motivated by all the good stuff. But we’ve got to be hungrier than that. I don’t think this is a team that wants to be patted on the back. I think this a great team that wants to be even better. That’s going to come with a bit of self-reflection.”