BLACKSBURG, Va. - Playing for the first time since No. 1 North Carolina ruined Duke's unblemished record, the Blue Devils struggled in an up-and-down battle against a pesky Hokie squad that would not go quietly.
The No. 2 Blue Devils (21-1, 8-1 in the ACC) managed to take control of the game late in the second half and cruised to a 73-62 victory over Virginia Tech (15-6, 2-6).
If there were any lingering effects from Duke's loss to the Tar Heels, they were not immediately apparent.
After hitting a three-pointer from the left side early in the game, guard Monique Currie forced a steal on the defensive end. Pushing the ball up the floor, the senior took it all the way to the hoop for a layup to put the Blue Devils up 7-0 two minutes into the game.
Duke's early momentum dissipated as the half wore on, however, and the Blue Devils managed just three points over the next eight minutes. The back-and-forth struggle continued throughout the first half as Duke could not find a way to pull away.
"Every time I felt like we were about to blow the game wide open, they made a comeback and kept attacking," head coach Gail Goestenkors said.
Goestenkors' frustration with her team's play began to wear on the coach.
After the Blue Devils forced a steal at half-court with 9:30 to play in the first half, they worked the ball up the floor to sophomore guard Wanisha Smith, who drove to the basket for a layup.
A charge call on Smith nullified the two points, however, and Goestenkors adamantly expressed her disapproval of the call to the referees. For her outburst, she was awarded a technical foul, to which she responded by yelling out, "That' s your first good call!"
The Blue Devils seemed inspired by Goestenkors' tirade and regained their early intensity.
Two possessions later, junior guard Lindsey Harding heaved a cross-court pass to Currie, who faked out her defender and took the ball to the rim. Currie made the layup, was fouled and sunk the subsequent free-throw, giving the Blue Devils a 18-16 lead.
Virginia Tech guard Carrie Mason answered the Blue Devils' push with her second three-pointer of the game. But the Hokies would not score another field goal over the final 8:20 of the first half, while Duke tallied 21 points for a 39-25 lead at the break.
"I guess we woke up," Currie said. "We just got things together and got things rolling. After a while we settled down a little bit. We were more focused on running and executing what we were supposed to run."
The Blue Devil's increased concentration and determination as the game progressed was particularly noticeable in the play of senior forward Mistie Williams.
In the first half, Williams was unable to convert on various opportunities down low, and when she got to the free-throw line, she shot an abysmal 1-for-6.
The second half, however, was a different story.
Williams converted all six of her shots in the paint and buried her only free throw of to finish the game with 16 points, matching her season high.
"After halftime was over, I just let that half go, and I think that is really important, especially if you are not having such a great game," senior forward Mistie Williams said. "You just have to leave it behind. You can' t dwell on the little stuff, but focus on the positive and do what you can."
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