Facing its toughest competition of the year, No. 4 Duke struggled to establish the type of lead it has grown accustomed to so far this season.
But the Blue Devils' 21-point win over 11th-ranked Vanderbilt (8-1) was plenty enough to keep Duke (8-0) undefeated after sinking the Commodores, 69-48.
"Everybody who watched the game knows that the score is not indicative of the game that was played," Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors said. "It was much closer than that."
Although Duke never trailed in the contest, the Commodores kept the score close for most of the game. But with 4:18 remaining, the Blue Devils broke the game open with an eight-point possession that pushed the score to 57-40 and gave Duke a much more comfortable cushion.
Grabbing a rebound off of a missed Vanderbilt three-point attempt, Lindsey Harding dished the ball to Abby Waner, who raced up the court along with Wanisha Smith on a fast-break attempt.
Drawing Vanderbilt's Caroline Williams to guard the ball, Waner slipped a no-look pass across the lane to Smith, who finished the layup for two points. Waner then drew an intentional foul from Williams and was sent to the line for two shots.
After Waner missed her first shot, the Vanderbilt bench was called for a technical foul, which gave Harding two chances, and she converted both of them.
"I'd say [an explanation] is what I was trying to get," Balcomb said.
Waner continued on to hit her second free throw, then Duke received the ball under its own basket and the sophomore sank a three-pointer from the corner to complete an eight-point swing in a total of 11 seconds.
"That was a huge play for us," Waner said. "That definitely got our crowd into it, and that's what we needed because when our crowd got into it, we started getting energy on the floor."
The game was history after the unusual turn of events as the Blue Devils went a perfect 10-for-10 on free throws and extended their lead to 21 points by the end of the game.
The exciting finish covered up what was otherwise an underachieving night on the offensive end.
"We didn't have the patience we need to have to be the best team we can be," Goestenkors said. "Too many turnovers."
The Blue Devils, who were averaging 84.3 before last night's game, scored just 29 in the first half. They totaled 23 turnovers in the contest and failed to ever establish a transition game, posting just six fast-break points-all in the final six minutes.
But what Duke lacked on the offensive end, they made up for with a tireless man-to-man defense that forced the lowest production of the season for the high-scoring Commodores. Vanderbilt's previous low was 67 points against No. 16 California.
"I'm really proud of our defense," Goestenkors said. "We felt like if we could make them one-on-one players-they're not as comfortable playing one-on-one basketball."
Having shot more than 50 percent from the floor coming into the game, Vanderbilt managed to convert just 33.3 percent of its attempts while committing 18 turnovers.
Duke held Williams-who has averaged 15.6 points-to just six on the night. The Blue Devils are yet to allow more than 50 points this year.
Senior Alison Bales led Duke with 16 points. Waner chipped in with 11 points in the second half to total 14. Harding added 15 points of her own, with 12 of those coming in the second period.
Duke will face its third ranked opponent in a row when it battles No. 22 Texas Sunday in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
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