CONWAY, S.C.—With 10 straight lightning-quick points to start the third quarter, Duke appeared poised to potentially dethrone the queens of the ACC for the first time since Notre Dame joined the league in 2013.
But after a Fighting Irish timeout just 2:44 into the second half, the league’s dominant force for the last three seasons showed exactly why they would earn a conference tournament title yet again.
Thanks to a 14-0 third-quarter outburst, No. 1 seed Notre Dame surged past third-seeded Duke 84-61 Sunday afternoon at the HTC Center, leaning on an explosive offensive performance that saw the Fighting Irish knock down 11-of-22 from beyond the arc. Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale and Brianna Turner led five players in double figures with 39 combined points, and tournament MVP Lindsay Allen facilitated the attack beautifully with 11 points, 13 assists, seven rebounds and five steals.
Although the Blue Devils got another stellar first-half performance from star guard Lexie Brown—who contributed 16 points but was shut out after halftime—they struggled after pulling within a pair at 43-41 early in the third quarter. Duke failed to score for almost five minutes and allowed the Fighting Irish to pull away, as Brown and star Rebecca Greenwell went just 6-of-22 from the field against Notre Dame’s combination of man-to-man and triangle-and-two defenses.
“The game is about runs,” Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I was really proud of our run, but you can’t expect to just go at a team one time and expect they’re going to back up. You have to be aggressive. They hit a couple of shots…and that’s basketball—you have to be ready to compete at that level.”
Trailing by 15 entering the final 10 minutes, Duke (27-5) put up eight points in less than two minutes to get within a dozen. But Notre Dame’s relentless offense would not let up.
A 3-pointer from Marina Mabrey just after the fourth-quarter media timeout put the Fighting Irish (30-3) up 20 as they handily closed out the Blue Devils with a 21-13 final frame. It was Allen, though, who stole the show en route to first-team all-tournament honors alongside backcourt mates Mabrey and Ogunbowale.
“[Allen’s] court vision is something I’ve never seen before,” Brown said. “I’ve known Lindsay a long time and to see her grow as a point guard has been nice to see. She’s definitely the best to ever do it.”
Duke shot itself in the foot with at least 17 turnovers for a third straight game. And up against the ACC’s best offense, the Blue Devils’ mistakes finally came back to haunt them as Notre Dame capitalized to the tune of 26 points off turnovers, 11 fast-break points and 30 points in the paint.
When the Blue Devils did execute well and hold on to the ball, they struggled to finish easy opportunities, missing several layups throughout the game that destroyed their chances in their fourth straight ACC tournament loss to the Fighting Irish.
“When you look at these points off turnovers, that’s what really sticks with me—poise,” McCallie said. “We have to take a hard look at where we’re being careless with the basketball…. If you’re going to turn the ball over that much and somebody’s going to score that much, it’s going to be very hard to play defense.”
Third-ranked Notre Dame took it to No. 13 Duke right away with seven straight points in the first 1:15 of the contest as the Fighting Irish found ways to score before the Blue Devils could even set up their zone. Although a 6-0 Duke spurt eventually narrowed the margin to just four midway through the first frame, Notre Dame regained its offensive footing and took a 27-18 lead into the second quarter.
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The Duke defense struggled mightily the entire afternoon. The Blue Devils allowed a season-high 84 points—including 43 in the first half—and Notre Dame held Duke without a field goal for the final 7:35 of the half to carry a 12-point advantage into the locker room.
After their worst defensive performance of the season, the Blue Devils will now await Selection Monday in eight days, when they will discover their opponent for the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Duke is currently slotted as a No. 3 seed in ESPN’s projections as of Sunday morning—meaning the Blue Devils would host first and second round games at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
But in the meantime, Duke will relish a positive weekend in South Carolina despite falling short of their first conference tournament title since 2011. Brown was named to the all-tournament first team and Greenwell garnered second-team honors as well. The Blue Devils also earned two more top-25 wins to pad an already impressive resume and ran their winning streak to 10 before Sunday’s loss.
“It was definitely a lot of fun—I wouldn’t want to go on this run with another group of girls,” said Brown of her first ACC tournament experience since rejoining the league. “Nobody thought we were going to get to this level, this game…. I wish we wouldn’t have to learn with a loss, but we’re going to learn a lot and get better from it.”