Bench explodes as Duke cruises to easy victory

With leading scorer Chante Black battling a virus, Abby Waner in the midst of a shooting slump, a rivalry game looming and the ACC cellar-dweller traveling to Cameron Indoor Stadium, there was a perfect storm in place for Duke to stumble Friday night against Virginia Tech.

Fortunately for the Blue Devils, with two starters in less than top form, the rest of the squad stepped up just in time.

All 12 Duke players scored for the first time this season and Duke handily defeated the Hokies, 85-50.

"It was a total team effort," said Waner, who finished with seven points but also dished out five assists. "When you have so many different threats and different ways to score... it's really tough to defend-you can't just zero in on one spot."

Freshman Krystal Thomas performed notably well off the bench for the Blue Devils (16-5, 5-1 in the ACC), leading the reserves with 10 points-her first double-digit scoring output in conference play. Senior Wanisha Smith and sophomore Joy Cheek led all scorers with 14 points apiece, but Thomas' inside presence in relief of Black was integral to Duke's interior dominance throughout the contest.

"My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball in the right places for me to score," Thomas said. "I'm just working on being more aggressive in my post and being a big target for my teammates to find me."

The bench's presence on the glass was especially important. Duke's reserves pulled down 35 of the team's 50 rebounds, accounting for as many boards as Virginia Tech (13-9, 0-7). In the first half, when the Blue Devils shot just 34.2 percent from the field, Keturah Jackson and Carrem Gay came off the bench to register 13 total rebounds and help the team gain a scoring edge with seven second-chance points.

Duke's shooting struggles in the first half were partly a result of a solid defensive effort from Virginia Tech, particularly in containing Black. The Blue Devils' leading scorer made just one of seven field goal attempts in the opening 20 minutes for two points. But the Hokies' team defense fell apart in the second half, as Duke opened the second session on a 21-8 run, culminating with two steals in a 13-second sequence for four easy points to put Virginia Tech away for good.

"When we have a game where our first group goes after it so hard in the second half like they did, it just is inspiring," head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "It provides an opportunity to really mix it up and work on combinations and give everybody a chance to get out there and play."

Defensively, the Blue Devils utilized their depth to continuously press the Hokies. Although Virginia Tech's leading scorer Brittany Cook had 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first half, the rest of the team shot 25 percent from the field. For the game, the Hokies shot just 35 percent, and their 50 points were well below their season average of 71.

"In the second half, I thought we just got completely away from our game plan," Virginia Tech head coach Beth Dunkenberger said. "We didn't guard correctly, we didn't take care of the ball on offense. We had some bad turnovers, which in turn led to some Duke transition opportunities. Things went worse from there."

The Blue Devils' easy victory was sandwiched between games against No. 2 Tennessee and No. 3 North Carolina, which could have caused the team to lose focus in a less-hyped contest. It was a classic trap game. Instead, Duke took care of business, rebuilding momentum for its next contest Monday against the Tar Heels.

"I think the team did a really good job of focusing and understanding what we wanted to get better from the last game," McCallie said. "I was pleased with the leadership and the mindset of our team, and of course now we can focus on UNC."


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