In the second quarter against Duke’s archrival, Lexie Brown found herself in an unfamiliar place—seated on the bench.
After two early fouls, the Blue Devils’ leading scorer was forced to watch her team try to preserve an early 10-point lead for the last seven minutes of the half.
Fortunately for Duke, sharpshooter Rebecca Greenwell was at her best once again at Carmichael Arena.
The redshirt junior poured in 15 of her 30 points in the first 20 minutes to stake the Blue Devils to a 13-point halftime lead that No. 13 Duke turned into a 95-71 victory at North Carolina Sunday afternoon. Brown added 19 points and five assists and teamed up with her partner in crime for a 10-0 run to start the fourth quarter that extended the Blue Devils’ lead to 25.
Greenwell canned two of her six 3-pointers during that spurt to highlight her third 30-point game of the season.
“Becca was loaded and ready,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “She played her game and let it come to her, and her teammates found her, which was great, but she took full advantage. That zero turnover stat was huge—it was an excellent game.”
Although the Tar Heels (14-15, 3-13 in the ACC) were missing two of their four best 3-point shooters in Stephanie Watts and Destinee Walker, North Carolina came out hot to start the second half by knocking down two triples to cut the lead to six.
But the Blue Devils (25-4, 13-3) showed why they have won eight straight games by at least 10 points to close out the regular season, responding with a 9-2 spurt to regain their double-digit advantage and never looking back. McCallie’s team never trailed in the final 37 minutes Sunday, sealing the No. 3 seed in the upcoming ACC tournament with a sixth straight win against the Tar Heels.
A year removed from being the No. 8 seed in the conference and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1994, Duke delivered McCallie’s eighth 25-win season in Durham and put another exclamation point on her candidacy for ACC Coach of the Year. The Blue Devils were picked to finish sixth in the league to start the year.
“This regular season has been absolutely outstanding by our team,” McCallie said. “It says a lot about this team. They had a terrific summer together and worked very hard together. There’s a lot of trust on this team, playing for each other and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s something we want to keep growing.”
North Carolina knocked down 10 3-pointers to stay somewhat competitive early on, with Olivia Smith stepping up to knock down three treys in the first half. One of her triples from the corner on a feed from Paris Kea pulled the Tar Heels within seven with five minutes left in the second quarter.
However, Duke’s strength inside against North Carolina’s undersized frontcourt proved to be too much for the Tar Heels to overcome for the second time this season.
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The Blue Devils racked up 46 paint points, with sophomore point guard Kyra Lambert shredding North Carolina’s defense with precise passing on her way to a career-high 13 assists. Lambert notched her first career double-double and combined with rookie forward Leaonna Odom for 25 points, taking advantage of the space created by Brown’s and Greenwell’s dominance on the perimeter as Duke had just 10 turnovers and racked up 30 assists.
“Thirty assists is unbelievable. I have not seen that statistic in 25 years of being a head coach,” McCallie said. “I’ve seen 28, 29, but not 30. We’re excited about the ball being shared the way it was and for Kyra, and I’m really proud of her, because that’s so much of what her game is. Her ability to create and score, and just distribute the ball and rebound and kind of do it all. It was impressive.”
All of Duke’s points in the decisive 10-0 run to begin the fourth came on assists by Lambert, including Greenwell’s two 3-pointers.
The other two baskets were Brown layups, as the Suwanee, Ga., native had no problem getting behind North Carolina’s leaky defense.
“That [run] was huge for us,” Greenwell said. “We wish we could have gotten that in the first half actually, but it was a great run. Everyone was playing their roles at their highest abilities and we were really clicking on all cylinders at that point.”
The Blue Devils will now have several days off before opening the ACC tournament in Conway, S.C., Friday at 8 p.m.
Duke will take on the winner of Thursday’s game between sixth-seeded Syracuse and either No. 11 seed Pittsburgh or the 14th-seeded Tar Heels and will look to continue its strong ball handling and interior play in the postseason.
“[This momentum] is a good thing if we carry it properly,” McCallie said. “Ten turnovers, that’s very, very good. Rebounding and then having 10 turnovers or less will put us in a good position against any team. A lot of this game was speaking to us and reminding us what we can do and what we need to do to head into that second season.”