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Brown, strong defensive effort lead Duke women's basketball past Penn

<p>Maryland transfer Lexie Brown scored 13 early points in her first game for the Blue Devils.</p>

Maryland transfer Lexie Brown scored 13 early points in her first game for the Blue Devils.

After transferring from Maryland and being forced to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, junior guard Lexie Brown waited nearly two years to make her debut at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

In her home debut Sunday, Brown showed fans what they have been missing.

After a scorching 18-4 run to begin the game, Brown’s 20 points helped the Blue Devils hold off Pennsylvania 68-55 Sunday afternoon at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Even with a subpar shooting performance from All-ACC guard Rebecca Greenwell, who went just 5-of-16 from the field, Duke held the reigning Ivy League champions to 30.8 percent shooting and never trailed in the contest.

“I look at the game with a different appreciation, a different love now. Game days are extra special to me now,” Brown said. “I definitely am so happy that I’m here. I made the right decision to come here. That year was long but I learned so much and I am able to show what I learned this upcoming season.”

Before Sunday’s game, Brown hadn’t looked comfortable with her shot, going 2-of-13 from the field in the Blue-White Scrimmage and 4-of-12 in a season-opening 98-38 victory against Liberty Friday night.

“She’s still trying to figure out her way,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said of Brown. “When you don’t play for a year, there’s a transition to coming back to competition.... Lexie’s busting through it a little bit. There’s a real process when you haven’t played for a year.”

But the former All-American found her rhythm in the first quarter against Pennsylvania, scoring eight points, including a buzzer-beating trey to end the period. Point guard Kyra Lambert gave the Blue Devils (2-0) early momentum with a 3-pointer and old-fashioned three-point play after stealing the inbounds pass, sparking a 13-0 run to start the game. Lambert finished with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

Although the Blue Devils got off to a hot start offensively, winning the first quarter 26-14, the Quaker defense stiffened after that. Pennsylvania (0-1) ranked second in the nation in blocks and eighth in scoring defense last year, and held Duke to nine second-quarter points to get back in the game. Pennsylvania’s combination of zone and man-to-man defenses stymied the Blue Devil offense—the Quakers blocked six shots and hung with the Blue Devils on the boards to stay within striking distance.

“It was an interesting defense. We still continued to run our offense, just there weren’t the normal openings,” Greenwell said. “We kind of had to just see what the defense gave us and just play from there.”

All-Ivy League forward Michelle Nwokedi and Ivy League Player of the Year Sydney Stipanovich led the Quakers with 38 points and 23 rebounds combined. Duke forward Oderah Chidom was tasked with guarding the pair of 6-foot-3 post players, and did her best to limit the damage, scoring eight points and pulling down 14 rebounds in the victory.

But the Blue Devils’ other three primary post players—junior Erin Mathias, senior Kendall Cooper and redshirt sophomore Lyneé Belton—struggled to make the same impact, combining for just four points on 2-of-10 shooting and 11 rebounds.

“She had a tough assignment to try to maneuver with those players, but the fact that she pulled 14 rebounds in between the two of them shows how tough she can be and how she’s willing to go after the ball,” McCallie said of Chidom. “We’ve got to get some more double-figure rebounders to join her, but that was important to see what she could do.”

Despite its success in the post, Pennsylvania struggled to get its other players going offensively. The Quakers went 6-of-27 from 3-point range, squandering many chances to cut into Duke’s lead.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Brown and Greenwell—who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds—allowed Duke to extend its lead to 15 early in the fourth quarter, and the Blue Devils secured a hard-fought win against the Quakers for the second straight season.

Duke will be back in action Tuesday evening against Longwood.

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