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Duke peters out late in game

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A shorthanded Duke squad knew it would have its hands full against No. 10 Notre Dame in the semifinals of the preseason NIT Wednesday night. The game lived up to its billing as the Fighting Irish exploited a worn-down Blue Devil unit at the end of an emotional contest to notch the early-season victory.

Notre Dame (3-0) pulled ahead late in the second half and closed out No. 6 Duke 76-65 in a game that stayed close until the final minutes.

Minutes into the second half, preseason All-America candidate Jacqueline Batteast picked up her third foul of the night, causing Irish head coach Muffet McGraw to yank her from the lineup with Duke up just two points.

The Blue Devils (2-1) then mounted a 7-2 run, which made McGraw rethink her strategy.

“I thought if the game is going to get out of hand, we need to get her back in there right now,” McGraw said.

Batteast made an immediate impact against a tiring Duke team that had only eight players available because of the absence of injured freshman center Chante Black and suspended point guard Lindsey Harding. A few plays after returning, Batteast banked in a three-pointer, closing the deficit to three and setting the tone for a second half that Notre Dame dominated.

“That was huge,” head coach Gail Goestenkors said. “She was in foul trouble most of the game, and when she came back in she was very rested and very determined. We were a little fatigued at that point and she took advantage.”

The Blue Devils committed a bevy of miscues soon thereafter, including turnovers and fouls that fueled a rejuvenated Notre Dame team further.

“We made a lot of mistakes towards the end,” junior forward Monique Currie said. “It can get frustrating sometimes because we played pretty well in the first half and then came out and didn’t have the same intensity.”

Duke turned the ball over 13 times and committed 14 fouls in the second half. Notre Dame capitalized on the Blue Devil errors, tallying 19 points off of turnovers and 16 from the foul line in the period.

Despite the sloppy play, Duke was able to stay slightly ahead of the Irish for a large portion of the half. Guard Caitlin Howe nailed two key three pointers, and center Alison Bales converted the free throw after an awkward driving layup to keep the offense going at a time when the team was struggling.

Once again, though, Duke had no answer for Batteast. With just eight minutes remaining, she went on an offensive flurry, scoring Notre Dame’s next 10 points.

“I think that’s the most I smiled or screamed in the four years I’ve been here,” Batteast said of one celebration during her run. “It was a really exciting game.”

Batteast finished with a game-high 17 points in just 28 minutes of play.

When the South Bend, Ind. native went to the bench, the Blue Devils took advantage of a size discrepancy in the paint. Bales blocked six of her career-high seven shots in the first half, and Mistie Williams dominated the paint on offense. Williams scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots on the game.

Duke was never able to secure a big enough lead despite its advantages early on and went into halftime only up two points.

“I would have loved to have had a bigger lead,” Goestenkors said. “It doesn’t surprise me that we weren’t able to pull away because they have several players [other than Batteast] who can step up and score as well.”

Irish point guard Megan Duffy finished with 15 points while also dishing out seven assists. Freshman guard Charel Allen broke out with a 16-point effort while playing tough defense on Currie.

“[Allen] really killed us,” Goestenkors said. “We weren’t planning on the two big threes she hit, and she really caused us some problems.”

Currie led the Blue Devils with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while playing all but 30 seconds of the game. She led a frantic Duke run at the end of regulation that came up short. Currie scored nine of her points in the first half, and in the second she was slowed by a switch to more zone defense.

The first Duke loss of a young season comes after two blowout wins in the early rounds of the tournament.

“When you lose these kind of games you scrutinize your mistakes and you learn from them,” Goestenkors said. “Hopefully it will make us more determined. We’re young, we’re going to learn.”

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