GREENSBORO, N.C.—Desperate for a statement win to vastly improve its tournament chances, Duke needed its stars to shine brightest to upset one of the best teams in the nation.
But with sharpshooter and second team All-ACC selection Rebecca Greenwell sidelined with a back injury, the short-handed Blue Devils’ inexperienced backcourt was exposed against the top-seeded team in the ACC tournament, as they struggled with ball security and shooting the ball from beyond the arc.
Five Notre Dame players scored in double-figures for the 10th time this season as the No. 2 Fighting Irish routed eighth-seeded Duke 83-54 in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament Friday afternoon at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Blue Devils shot just 31.7 percent for the game and committed 14 turnovers that led to 19 Notre Dame points.
The loss puts Duke’s NCAA tournament hopes on life support, as the Blue Devils can do nothing further to improve their resume as they await their postseason fate March 14 on Selection Monday.
“We played one of the hardest schedules in the country. We played away against a lot of great programs. I think this team has done amazing things. We have one of the best players in the country on our team. I feel like we’ve overcome a great deal,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “A great deal more than any other team in the country, and despite today, we are the greatest story. This team is the greatest story. No one out there has any idea what we’ve been through and what we’d like to continue to go through to be in that tournament.”
Playing a zone defense, the Fighting Irish (29-1) limited the effectiveness of Duke’s post players. By converging on star sophomore Azurá Stevens and junior Oderah Chidom whenever they touched the ball in the paint, Notre Dame disrupted Duke's offensive flow. After a hot start in which she led Duke with six points as the Blue Devils (20-12) jumped out to a quick 9-8 lead, Chidom never regained her early rhythm and committed five turnovers.
“We played a lot more 2-3 zone than we would have if Greenwell was in the lineup. Certainly she’s a great perimeter shooter and we wouldn’t have probably been able to play as much zone,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said.
Stevens turned in another double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds in her second game back from a foot injury, but needed 17 shots to arrive at that total. Chidom finished with eight points and 11 rebounds.
Without Greenwell, Duke’s role players had to step up and make the Fighting Irish pay from the perimeter, as they dared freshmen Kyra Lambert, Faith Suggs and Crystal Primm to shoot over the top of the zone. With Notre Dame’s Lindsay Allen pressed up on 35.2 percent 3-point shooter Angela Salvadores—who shot 1-4 from deep after going 0-of-7 Thursday against Virginia—the Fighting Irish gave the other guards ample room to operate beyond the arc. But the Blue Devils could not capitalize, enduring another rough shooting night from downtown—though three fourth-quarter triples from Lambert helped Duke finish 8-of-22 from deep.
But by that point, the outcome was already determined.
A 21-4 run in the second quarter helped Notre Dame seize control after a back-and-forth first quarter, and the Fighting Irish scored 12 of the first 14 points coming out of the locker room to blow the game open. Sisters Michaela and Marina Mabrey combined for 25 points and four 3-pointers, and Madison Cable added three more triples for Notre Dame, which outrebounded Duke 44-32.
"Faith Suggs and Kyra Lambert played good games today [without Greenwell] and I hope the committee can see that we tried our best and that we were missing one of our key scorers," Chidom said.
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The Fighting Irish’s potent offense snapped Duke’s streak of 16 games limiting opponents to less than 70 points. After a first quarter in which it shot less than 30 percent, Notre Dame found its shooting stroke in the second quarter as it put up 25 points in the period. By getting out in transition after grabbing long rebounds and forcing turnovers, the Fighting Irish took advantage of the limited Blue Devil depth to run up and down the floor.
Now, Duke can only hope for the best after getting knocked out of the ACC tournament by Notre Dame for the third consecutive year.
“I feel like we’d be a great, fun team to watch in the tournament because I think we’d be a little bit of an outlier," McCallie said. "I know we wouldn’t be a top seed, but I think that’s what the tournament is all about, especially on the women’s side—the storylines and how teams fight. I’m still amazed this team won 20 games when you think about it.”