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Johnson's triple-double leads Duke women's basketball past Old Dominion

Senior Ka'lia Johnson posted the seventh triple-double in Duke women's basketball history Thursday night at Old Dominion.
Senior Ka'lia Johnson posted the seventh triple-double in Duke women's basketball history Thursday night at Old Dominion.

NORFOLK, Va.—Ka'lia Johnson and Elizabeth Williams made sure their homecoming ended the way they wanted.

Led by Johnson's triple-double—just the seventh in program history—the Blue Devils cruised to an 82-66 win against Old Dominion at the Ted Constant Convocation Center Thursday night. Playing 30 minutes away from home, Williams added 22 points, eight rebounds and five blocks to fuel the Blue Devil victory.

Johnson's stat line—18 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds—included career highs in both points and assists, and tied her carer high in rebounds. The senior, who grew up less than 100 miles away in Chester, Va., is the first Blue Devil to notch a triple-double since Chelsea Gray accomplished the feat Jan. 6, 2013.

“I’m proud of our team,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It was a well-fought effort, and I thought Old Dominion played great. I though they hit shots that were incredible, and I was very proud of our team to weather the storm with some of that shooting."

Although the result was pretty, the ride there was anything but smooth sailing. After jumping out to a 24-12 lead, Duke (2-0) began to struggle to get and convert inside shots.

The Lady Monarchs forced eight Blue Devil turnovers in the first half with stingy defense, and—with the inside clogged by Williams and redshirt junior Amber Henson—utilized the perimeter for their offense. Old Dominion knocked down eight three pointers during the game and knocked down 41.8 percent of its field goal attempts. After 10 quick points in the first 5:54, Williams went more than 13 minutes without a basket, allowing the Lady Monarchs to close the gap to three points late in the opening frame.

After two Williams scores in the final 1:01 before halftime, Duke left for the locker room with a 36-31 advantage, aided by eight second-chance points. Rebounding was crucial for the Blue Devils all night, utilizing a sizable height advantage to outrebound Old Dominion 44-29 on the glass. Duke's starting lineup had bigger players at every position, helping to prolong possessions with second-chance opportunities and overpower Old Dominion inside.

Leading by just five after the first 20 minutes compared to its 33-point halftime cushion Sunday against Alabama, the Blue Devils opened the second half with poise, making their first six shots and ultimately scoring on 11 of its first 12 possessions. On the other end, Duke's defense forced three turnovers and limited Old Dominion's opportunities, giving itself plenty of breathing room with a 25-9 run that made the score 61-40 with 11:59 remaining.

“In the locker room, we really emphasized the shot-contesting," Johnson said. "We really emphasized just getting dirty and doing the dirty work, and playing gritty defense, and we came out and focused on that and our offense followed. But it all starts with defense if we’re going to win games.”

After Williams dominated in the early going, Johnson took control for the Blue Devils after intermission. The point guard tallied 12 points and eight assists in the second half, many of which came during the game-defining run. In the course of eight possessions, Johnson had a hand in five of seven Blue Devil baskets, drilling a pair of 3-pointers and dishing out three assists.

With two minutes remaining, though, Johnson was still sitting on nine rebounds, one board shy of the rare triple-double. The Blue Devil coaching staff was determined to help her get it, keeping the starter in the game with the outcome all but decided.

“At the end of the game, [assistant coach Al] Brown told me to get one more rebound," Johnson said. "[Old Dominion guard Jennie Simms] shot it and I just went up for the rebound and I got it. I didn’t know [about the triple-double] until Coach P. hugged me when I came out.”

After combining for 40 of Duke's 82 points, the hometown Williams and Johnson each received standing ovations from friends and family who had made the short trip to watch them play. The duo did not disappoint.

“It’s humbling,” Williams said of playing at home. “I’ve obviously developed at Duke, but it’s kind of nice to come back and be able to show how I’ve developed in front of the fans.”

A major difference between the two squads Thursday was Duke’s reliance on an array of contributors. Six Blue Devils scored at least eight points—five reached double-figures—compared to just three Lady Monarchs. Five Duke players also grabbed at least six rebounds, compared to just two from Old Dominion.

Just as incredibly, Johnson’s 13 assists were one less than Old Dominion's team total.

After opening up with two game away from home, the Blue Devils return to Cameron Indoor Stadium for three home games, including the home opener Sunday against Marquette. Duke plays 10 of its next 13 games in Durham, but two of the three road tilts in that stretch are against top-five foes Texas A&M and Connecticut.

The Blue Devils have some things to improve on after Thursday's game, including cutting down on turnovers and shooting a higher percentage from beyond the arc, but the performances of Johnson and Williams were enough to carry Duke to victory.

“There’s some things we were doing that wasn’t exactly what we needed to do,”McCallie said. “But right now, I’m just really happy for our two student-athletes coming home and playing that way at home.”

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