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Lexie Brown's late heroics send Duke women's basketball past Miami and into ACC tournament championship game

<p>The Blue Devils held Miami to 2-of-17 3-point shooting to overcome another sloppy offensive performance.&nbsp;</p>

The Blue Devils held Miami to 2-of-17 3-point shooting to overcome another sloppy offensive performance. 

CONWAY, S.C.—With less than 40 seconds to play, junior Lexie Brown caught the ball on the right wing. Guarded by Miami’s Jessica Thomas, the Blue Devil guard came to the top of the key and drove left, looking to create some space as the shot clock wound down.

Brown put the ball between her legs twice and stepped back, coolly drilling the jumper while getting fouled.

The Suwanee, Ga., native took a pair of giant stomps on the HTC Center floor and her smile told it all—Duke would be playing for an ACC title Sunday afternoon.

Less than a year after their first season without an NCAA tournament appearance since 1994, the third-seeded Blue Devils will return to the conference championship game after slipping past No. 7 Miami 57-52 Saturday.

Brown and Duke freshman Leaonna Odom combined for 33 points and 10 rebounds en route to the hard-fought win. After the Blue Devils routed the Hurricanes at Cameron Indoor Stadium 13 days ago, a Duke victory did not come as easily this time around.

The Miami defense hounded the third-seeded Blue Devils into 17 turnovers and took a late 52-51 lead with 1:54 remaining in the contest. An Emese Hof layup following one of the Hurricanes’ 12 offensive rebounds capped a 6-0 run to give the Hurricanes a short-lived advantage—before Brown hit a pair of free throws and the late dagger to respond and give Duke the lead for good.

“We were expecting a battle,” Brown said. “Miami is a great team, a super physical team. I think it was the perfect tune-up for us for tomorrow, but when you win a game like that, when you make a big play like that, you watch your teammates make big plays throughout the game…. You can’t do anything but be relieved that it’s over.”

After Brown completed the old-fashioned 3-point play to put her team up by four, the Blue Devils sealed the win with another defensive stop when forward Keyona Hayes—who led the Hurricanes (23-8) with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting and nine rebounds—missed a baseline jumper on the ensuing possession.

“We didn’t give it to Duke,” Miami head coach—and former Blue Devil All-American—Katie Meyer said. “We did not give this game away. We fought hard to take the lead and they took it back.”

The late drama came after a back-and-forth stretch that saw Duke star Rebecca Greenwell get free for her first two 3-pointers of the game, the second of which gave the Blue Devils a five-point lead with 4:32 remaining.

As Hayes led Miami's surge early in the period, Odom scored seven of her 13 points to keep 13th-ranked Duke in front before the No. 16 Hurricanes battled back. 

But Brown would not let the Blue Devils die, delivering the team's 10th straight win and getting Duke back to the ACC championship game for the first time since 2014.

“At this time of year, you can’t get worried about anything else but the moment,” Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Becca saved her best for the fourth quarter as well and then of course Lexie, the same thing…. We were very, very good in the moment down the stretch and that’s a takeaway we’ll have for the rest of the season.”

A first-team All-ACC performer, Brown burned the Hurricanes for 28 points during the teams’ first matchup—and Saturday, frequent Hurricane double teams were not enough to hold the junior guard down in the first 20 minutes. Brown combined with Odom for 15 of 23 Blue Devil first-half points to give Duke a 23-20 advantage at the break.

Both teams struggled to find a rhythm offensively after the Blue Devils won the first matchup between the teams 83-70 Feb. 19, suffering through lengthy scoring droughts in the opening 20 minutes. For the second straight game, turnovers hurt Duke, as McCallie's team coughed it up 10 times early on but leaned on its matchup zone defense to pull out another victory.

With the win, the Blue Devils will advance to Sunday’s championship game against top-seeded Notre Dame at 1 p.m. The Fighting Irish surged late to take down No. 5 Louisville 84-73 in the first semifinal of the afternoon Saturday.

And after Duke nearly upset earlier this season in South Bend, Ind., the Blue Devils will need to avoid the repeated mistakes—35 turnovers and 30 offensive rebounds surrendered in their first two ACC tournament games—if they hope to knock off the Fighting Irish for the first time since Notre Dame joined the ACC prior the 2014 season.

“They’re a terrific opponent. They’ve done extremely well,” McCallie said. “[But] it’s really about us. It’s really about what we want to do…. I don’t think it matters who we’re playing—it’s now turning with us and how we can get better.”

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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