GREENSBORO, N.C.—Duke’s only chance to compete with No. 2 Notre Dame was to slow the game down, and for one quarter, it did just that.
But things quickly unraveled during a fast-paced second quarter, sparking a rout that ended the Blue Devils’ tournament.
The top-seeded Fighting Irish opened the second stanza on a 21-4 run to break the game open on their way to an 83-54 win against Duke in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, with most of their points during the run coming in transition. The Blue Devils finished with 14 turnovers—an improvement on their season average of 18.7 giveaways per game—but most of the miscues were in live-ball situations that resulted in easy points on the other end for Notre Dame.
“We gave them the ball, practically, and you can’t do that, especially against a team that can convert on turnovers every single time,” sophomore forward Azurá Stevens. “Every single time you turn it over, they’re scoring. It’s not like a chance of them scoring—they’re going to score. I think we just had to take better care of the ball and we didn’t do that.”
Redshirt sophomore Rebecca Greenwell was out for the second straight game due to a back injury, limiting Duke’s depth and making hard for the Blue Devils to run up and down the floor in an up-tempo game.
Duke stuck to its game plan in the first period, controlling the ball well and running the shot clock down to single-digits searching for a good look on most possessions. The slow pace made it hard for Notre Dame to find a rhythm offensively and resulted in a back-and-forth quarter that featured the game’s only seven lead changes.
Although the Blue Devils trailed 14-11 after the first 10 minutes, they looked like a disciplined team that would keep the game close.
“We don’t like the deliberate pace. I thought we were playing their pace,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “They were going to move the ball and wait for good shots, and work the zone a little bit, and we want to just score quickly and have an up-tempo game.”
Everything changed in the second quarter as the Blue Devils coughed up the ball seven times during the period, including turnovers on three straight possessions that resulted in a 3-pointer and two breakaway layups and stretched the Fighting Irish advantage from eight points to 15 in a span of less than a minute.
Duke struggled to find open shooters in transition, as graduate student Madison Cable and senior Michaela Mabrey each torched the Blue Devils with three 3-pointers.
“The second and third quarters were obviously very difficult for us and I feel like we could’ve played better. I feel like it didn’t represent all that we’ve got,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “The biggest story is us not defending and I know that they’re an excellent 3-point shooting team, but that wasn’t really it either. It was the points in the paint and just the way we let them score pretty easily.”
Duke’s young backcourt was missing the stabilizing presence of Greenwell, who can handle the ball and create more room for freshmen point guards Kyra Lambert and Angela Salvadores to operate. After the offense moved fluidly as Greenwell had a career game in a blowout win Sunday at North Carolina, the Blue Devils reverted back to sloppier play in both games in Greensboro.
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Thursday against Virginia, Duke dished out just six assists with 17 turnovers, and though the Blue Devils improved their production with 11 helpers Friday, seven came in the second half when the outcome was never in doubt.
The lack of a reliable shooter like Greenwell allowed Notre Dame to collapse into the paint, forcing junior forward Oderah Chidom into five first-half turnovers after the Oakland, Calif., native also led the team with six giveaways against the Cavaliers.
The Blue Devil turnovers played right into the hands of the Fighting Irish, an experienced team led by Cable, Mabrey and Lindsay Allen in the backcourt. Notre Dame did not have a turnover heading into the locker room and executed its transition chances to perfection, outscoring Duke 13-0 in fast-break points during the contest.
“We had turnover, turnover, turnover, and they ran on those, and that was very unfortunate,” McCallie said. “They converted 13 points in the first half off turnovers. If you deduct that from the total, it’s a 26-24 game. That’s a big problem. You can’t be spotting teams, certainly teams of that kind of experience and that kind of senior leadership.”