For some teams, three games in five days is too much to handle. But ultimately, that was not the case for the Blue Devils.
Fueled by strong play on defense, No. 16 Duke defeated Presbyterian 79-45 Sunday afternoon at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils did not look back after a taking a double-digit first-half lead, with graduate student Rebecca Greenwell leading the way with 22 points. Duke maintained the lead for all but 18 seconds in the first quarter for its third straight victory and its 19th win in its last 20 tries at home.
“First half was not great. Nothing we were proud about, but the second half was very strong. It sent a strong message about the team and our focus at that point,” Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “To hold them to 17 points in the second half and to really work on our defense was great. Becca was attacking as usual. Very, very aggressive. I love to see that.”
Duke started strong by picking up the Blue Hose full-court and continued throughout the first quarter. Coupled with team defense, the Blue Devils displayed an array of passing which led to many open lanes. But Presbyterian countered with two triples to take the lead away from Duke briefly, and after the opening quarter, Duke led 15-13.
The Blue Devils recorded season highs in assists and field goal percentage against Presbyterian. As a unit, Duke shot 57.0 on 31-of-54 shooting from the field and 72.7 percent in the fourth quarter. Graduate student Lexie Brown led the team with seven of its 20 assists, but McCallie sees some room for improvement.
“Twenty [assists] is great, 25 is superb,” McCallie said. “I’m very happy that Lexie had seven, and again, no turnovers is fantastic.”
Although they did not come out on fire from 3-point range, missing their first four, the Blue Devils (5-1) finished the game shooting 8-of-18 from beyond the arc. Coupled with strong shooting from long distance, Duke's pressure defense forced Presbyterian (1-5) into 21 turnovers, which led to 30 points on the other end. Brown led the defensive effort with a game-high five steals. On the other hand, the Blue Devils committed only 12 turnovers of their own after finishing with just nine in each of their two previous games.
“I think that when we get points off turnovers, it fuels our defense and our offense. We like to run and I feel like at the beginning of the season, we weren’t getting those opportunities, and those points come straight from defensive energy,” Brown said. “The game just gets so much easier for everybody.”
Duke held a size advantage in the paint, where it outscored the Blue Hose 40-16 with some help off the bench.
McCallie deviated from her seven-player rotation in a game that saw 12 players record minutes. A 3-point play from freshman reserve Madison Treece followed by a layup from Greenwell opened up a 13-point lead midway through the second quarter at 28-15. Treece, who only logged a total of nine minutes prior to her breakout game, finished with a career-high five points off the bench in 18 minutes. The Blue Devil bench scored 23 points, eight more than the Blue Hose’s did.
After Duke opened up a 16-point lead, the Blue Hose did not give in, going on a 6-0 run to bring the game within eight. But Greenwell’s 14 points off four made triples at the half proved to be too much for Presbyterian head coach Todd Steelman's team to handle. Greenwell finished the game shooting 5-of-10 from long range. Sophomore Leaonna Odom also contributed 14 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double after scoring 16 points against Oregon State, and Brown added 18 points.
“Our minds were not totally there. I think our bodies are great. The players work very hard. It’s a challenge. You beat a good team, you have to come back the next day ready to go,” McCallie said. “I’m really proud of this team for the way they responded in the second half. They took charge and did what they’re supposed to do and they did that from their leadership.”
Presbyterian was led by sophomore Kacie Hall, who propelled her team back into the game in the opening half, scoring 10 points on two made 3-pointers. But Hall went scoreless in the second half, and Duke held the Blue Hose's leading scorer, senior Cortney Storey, to only eight points.
“Coach McCallie had her kids ready in the second half…. I think some of it was us not being as ready to play,” Presbyterian head coach Todd Steelman said. “In the second half, we struggled to put the ball in the basket. Obviously, that led to some easy buckets for them, and our turnovers hurt us, too.”
The Blue Devils opened up the second half with freshman Mikayla Boykin on the bench, as McCallie looked to junior Faith Suggs for a spark. Suggs finished with eight points, matching her career high, and Duke made five baskets in a row to match its largest lead of the contest at 16 points before finishing the third quarter with a 56-37 lead.
For the second time in less than a week, the Blue Devils will welcome a ranked opponent to Cameron Indoor Stadium when they take the floor next. Duke will take on No. 9 Ohio State Thursday night at 7 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge before traveling down to No. 3 South Carolina next Sunday at noon.
“In the ACC, every night’s a battle. I don’t care what people are ranked or what they look like or anything, it’s a ridiculous thing,” McCallie said. “You have to get prepared to play. Frankly, the great teams do that. They don’t care who they play. As I was saying, the great teams play anybody hard anyplace anywhere. We’ve got to learn that to become a great team.”
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