CHAPEL HILL—Having lost five consecutive road games, the Blue Devils knew they were in for yet another tough test on the road against in-state rival North Carolina. But they also knew they had Elizabeth Williams.
No. 15 Duke defeated No. 12 North Carolina 74-67 in overtime Sunday at Carmichael Arena. Williams had the performance of her career, as the senior center put up 33 points—the most any player has ever scored for head coach Joanne P. McCallie.
“I’m very very proud of Elizabeth and the way she was in attack mode and really getting after it,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “The game was really physical, but I thought she handled herself really well.”
After Williams heroically blocked the Tar Heels’ game-winning layup attempt in regulation, the Blue Devils used an 8-0 run in overtime to pull out the hard-fought victory. The senior turned in one of the best performances of her career, finishing with 33 points and 10 rebounds and helping steady Duke whenever the game seemed out of reach.
Down by as many as 10 in the first half, the Blue Devils (14-6, 5-2 in the ACC) used an early run coming out of halftime to get back into the game, one Duke needed to win after a tough loss to Boston College Thursday.
“We’re aware that we hadn’t been playing on the road, but for us as a team it’s important to get better each game,” Williams said. “Today was a day for us to come together and fight and we fought through overtime.”
The Blue Devils began the game looking to get the ball into Azura Stevens and Williams in the paint against the smaller Tar Heel frontcourt. But despite 15 points on 7-of-13 shooting for Williams in the first half, it was Duke’s perimeter play that allowed it to build an early lead. After both teams struggled to shoot the ball in the first ten minutes, back-to-back three-pointers by Ka’lia Johnson and Amber Henson allowed the Blue Devils to build an early 17-9 lead.
But with key players in foul trouble—five players had at least two fouls by halftime—and Duke starting to turn the ball over, North Carolina (17-4, 4-3) was able to get back into the game quickly.
Blue Devil guard Rebecca Greenwell and forwards Stevens, Kendall Cooper, Oderah Chidom and Erin Mathias each picked up two fouls in the first 20 minutes, forcing Duke to play unfamiliar lineups that hurt them on both ends of the floor.
On defense, the Blue Devils struggled to get to open Tar Heel shooters beyond the arc. After missing open looks early, North Carolina—led by senior Latifah Coleman who had 14 points and hit two of her three attempts from beyond the arc—was able to tie the game at 23 with 5:53 remaining to go in the half. With the benefit of being in the penalty early, the Tar Heels hit 12-of-16 free throws and used their advantage to take a 38-28 lead at halftime.
“We really had a tough go of it," McCallie said. "We had four people in foul trouble in the first half and we only shot three free throws to their 16 and that was a problem.”
But reenergized by the play of Greenwell and Williams, Duke went on an 11-3 run in the first three minutes of the second half that cut the North Carolina lead to 41-39—the closest the game had been since midway in the first half.
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“We wanted more energy, more aggression,” McCallie said. “It’s very important to be better in the second-half than you are in the first… The real players come alive in the second half to make things happen.”
With the Blue Devils surging, the Tar Heels went to their leading scorer Allisha Gray to retake control of the game. Gray was able to find open spots in Duke’s zone defense, connecting on three shots from beyond the arc in the first ten minutes of the half.
The Blue Devils once again responded by continuously punishing North Carolina in the post. Down six with 12:21 remaining in the game, Duke connected on four of five shots to recapture the lead at 56-54 with 8:34 to go and with the game tied at 56 with 5:12 remaining the stage was set for yet another nail-bitter in conference play.
Down the stretch, the Blue Devils went back to their driving force Williams down low. The All-American center dominated in the low block scoring five consecutive points for Duke—which quieted a hostile Tar Heel crowd. Williams’ run gave the Blue Devils a 62-58 lead with just 1:40 remaining in the contest.
“I have to give credit to my teammates who were getting the ball inside and executing really well,” Williams said.
After capitalizing on a Duke turnover to cut the lead to two, North Carolina’s N’Dea Bryant made a block on Oderah Chidom that gave the Tar Heels possession with 55 seconds to go. On offense, North Carolina fed the ball down low to Stephanie Mavunga who was fouled in the paint. After the sophomore hit both shots from the line, the Blue Devils had possession of the ball with 37 seconds remaining.
With the ball in their hands, Duke was forced to settle for a perimeter jumpshot from Ka’lia Johnson that fell short and after a scramble for the loose ball, the Tar Heels came up with possession with just 8.3 seconds remaining. On the final possession of regulation, Williams once again came up big for the Blue Devils as she swatted away the potential game-winning layup as North Carolina’s Latifah Coleman came charging into the paint.
“We knew they were going to try to get to the basket because there wasn’t much time remaining," the All-American center said. "I was standing in pretty good position and I was just trying to make a play”
In overtime, Duke would take control behind key plays from Williams and Johnson and come away with the big victory.
“High IQ and intelligence is really really important and we have to improve on that," McCallie said. “Our team is beginning to understand that you must be ready to play… records don’t mean anything and anybody can be successful on any day.”
The Blue Devils will look to sustain a win-streak in ACC play as they take on Pittsburgh Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Cameron Indoor Stadium.