As the seconds ticked off the clock and the noise inside Cameron Indoor Stadium built up to a fever pitch, the Blue Devils waited in eager anticipation. The buzzer finally sounded, sealing Duke’s first win against a top-five team since December 2013, and the celebration began.
The Blue Devils ran toward one other, jumping into each other’s arms as Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie raised her hands triumphantly. Junior Lexie Brown ran around looking for anyone to high-five or hug, overcome with happiness.
For a program that missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1994 last year and dealt with an internal investigation in the offseason, Sunday’s 74-63 win against No. 3 South Carolina was much more than the Blue Devils’ first win against a ranked team in more than year—it was redemption for a team picking itself up from last year’s turmoil.
“I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to win a game as much as I wanted to win tonight,” said redshirt junior guard Rebecca Greenwell, who led the way with 29 points.
At the start of Sunday’s game, it looked like a Duke postgame celebration was a long shot. After No. 3 South Carolina ripped off an early 10-0 run to take a 14-4 lead, it seemed like the Blue Devils were on their way to a second loss against an SEC opponent marked by their inability to take care of the ball.
Instead, Duke (9-1) quickly turned the tables, led by Greenwell and senior forward Oderah Chidom.
The Blue Devils cut the Gamecocks’ lead to two at the end of the first quarter and took control in the second quarter with a 14-4 spurt to break an 18-18 tie and take the lead for good. Greenwell was the catalyst throughout the game, making 9-of-15 shots from the field, including a crucial 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter to halt a Gamecock rally and clutch jumper in the paint to put Duke up by seven with 2:37 left.
Chidom added 15 points and eight rebounds, holding her own against a strong South Carolina front line and essentially putting the game out of reach with a tip-in following Greenwell’s jumper.
“I was super-focused,” Chidom said. “I wanted to make a statement and South Carolina is a great team to do it against.”
But the real star of the game was the Duke matchup zone defense, which forced 18 South Carolina turnovers and multiple lengthy Gamecock scoring droughts.
South Carolina (7-1) went 6-of-23 from 3-point range and struggled to get the ball inside to dominant All-SEC forwards A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates.
“We did a great job of following the scouting report—getting in front, limiting their touches,” Chidom said. “We knew A’ja Wilson was strong with her left hand, [we were]trying to shut that down and just constantly be aware of where they were on the court.”
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
After Wilson scored seven of her team’s first nine points, the Blue Devils capitalized when the first-team All-American went to the bench.
Duke quickly went on its 9-0 spurt to end the quarter, punctuating it with Chidom’s first career 3-pointer to beat the buzzer.
The Blue Devils then stepped up their defensive intensity to start the second quarter, switching to the matchup zone defense that posed all sorts of problems for the South Carolina offense.
Duke used its length and activity to force 12 turnovers in the first half, as the Gamecocks often seemed confused on offense. That defensive pressure turned into 15 Blue Devil points on the other end, including a coast-to-coast drive by freshman Leaonna Odom following a steal.
Although Greenwell and Chidom did most of the scoring damage, notching 11 points apiece in the opening 20 minutes to give the home team a 36-29 halftime lead, Odom’s quickness and nose for the ball gave Duke another gear.
“[Leaonna] is the fastest player on the floor,” McCallie said. “Her speed and quickness is something to envy—the team knows it. They’ve been talking to her and pushing her and one of these days she’s going to really get everything together, but we’re very proud of her.”
South Carolina got off to a strong start in the third quarter, cutting the deficit to five after it had stretched to double-digits and bringing the largely pro-Gamecock crowd to life.
Duke struck right back, however, led again by impressive defense resulting in transition baskets to build a 55-43 lead heading into the final period.
Although the Gamecocks made three 3-pointers early in the quarter to put the pressure back on the Blue Devils, Greenwell and company responded to preserve a comfortable margin.
Duke held Coates and Wilson—thought by many to comprise the nation’s best frontcourt—to 26 points and 11 rebounds combined to give itself a good chance to crack the top 25 for the first time this season Monday.
The Blue Devils’ statement win should give Duke a new level of confidence entering the final part of its nonconference schedule. The Blue Devils will only play two games between now and Christmas before another chance to bolster its resume against No. 17 Kentucky Dec. 29 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“We had a full team effort. Everyone did special things,” Greenwell said. “The defensive side of the game for us was incredible. I was so proud of everyone.”