LYNCHBURG, Va.—After missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in more than 20 years last year, Duke was eager to get its season officially underway.
For the Blue Devils, the road to redemption began in Lynchburg, Va., and despite a hotly-contested first quarter that saw Liberty lead for more than two minutes, a 10-0 run to end the first quarter gave Duke a lead it would not surrender. Led by All-ACC guard Rebecca Greenwell's career-high 28 points, the Blue Devils won the second quarter 24-6 en route to a 98-38 win at the Vines Center Friday evening.
“[It was] just a great game for us to get better and I’m really pleased with our aggressiveness defensively,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We can play a lot better, and we know that, but at the same time I liked our energy and intensity.”
The Blue Devils (1-0) allowed 18 points in the opening quarter, then held the Flames (0-1) to 20 the rest of the way and forced 30 turnovers.
Half of those turnovers came on Duke steals, and the Blue Devils also blocked 10 shots to get their transition game in gear.
“[In my] four years here the primary goal is defense and rebounding and offense will come, so [it’s just about] sticking to what you know and then following through,” said senior forward Oderah Chidom, who had a career-high six blocks.
Liberty’s turnovers resulted in 40 points for the Blue Devils, as sophomore Kyra Lambert and company frequently quickly moved from defense to offense. Lambert had 13 points, five assists and four steals, including eight quick points in the first quarter to get Duke's offense going. Sophomore Faith Suggs also had four thefts off the bench.
It was not all positive for the Blue Devils despite the lopsided win, as Duke committed 18 turnovers after being among the worst teams in the nation last season with 18.5 per game.
“I don’t think too much went wrong. I think we saw things maybe a tad late, and we were going for things that are definitely there, so for the most part we had maybe eight turnovers that were suspect,” McCallie said. “I just think you have to play, and we did, and we’ll connect on some of those and keep it down to 12 or less.”
Despite Greenwell’s career night, she struggled from the field early, but her aggression and persistence in getting to the basket enabled her to lead the Blue Devils to a 60-point win.
The redshirt junior sharpshooter only went 2-of-6 from 3-point range, but got to the free throw line seven times and added six rebounds and five assists in what was one of the best all-around games of her career.
“For me, I wasn’t hitting a lot of outside shots in the beginning so I had to try to get to the rack and contribute in other ways,” Greenwell said. “We realized that it was working—getting the ball inside and just attacking—so we just tried to stick to that.”
Post players Kendall Cooper and Lyneé Belton had seven of Duke’s turnovers, but also combined for 22 points and eight rebounds. Starting forwards Chidom and Erin Mathias combined for 18 rebounds, with Chidom's career-high six blocks preventing the Flames from getting many easy looks inside.
Liberty often was forced into tough perimeter shots, hitting just 1-of-17 from 3-point range and shooting just 20.8 percent from the field.
After Duke took a 48-24 halftime lead, the Blue Devils won the third quarter 23-12 before dominating the final period 27-2 to take plenty of momentum into their Sunday game against Pennsylvania. The Quakers nearly upset Duke last season and will visit Cameron Indoor Stadium at 2 p.m. for the Blue Devils' home opener.
“It’s great,” McCallie said. “I think it just shows how we can grow as a team and it was fun to see everybody contribute, and I didn’t even realize we had those personal bests. Personal bests are great because then you can beat them.”
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