Just days after struggling to put away a weaker nonconference opponent in their season opener, the Blue Devils overcame a slow start to dispatch another foe convincingly in Durham.

No. 11 Duke won its 19th straight home opener 77-50 Thursday night against High Point at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the first-ever meeting between the two North Carolina teams. Lexie Brown scored 24 points to carry the Blue Devils, who led by just 11 at the half but outscored the Panthers 38-22 in the second half to pull away for the win.

“We got off to a little bit of a slow start, and picked it up particularly in the second half. We’re working on some things, [but we’ve] got a long way to go,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. [Leaonna Odom’s] energy and intensity in the second half was really important. Erin [Mathias] was very consistent for us, which is important, and we had a chance to develop some other folks. Everybody who came off the bench did something positive. We’re a work in progress.”

Duke (2-0) pushed the pace from the opening tip, scoring six of its first 10 points on fast breaks, aided by a pair of early steals. However, the Blue Devils struggled to separate themselves early, missing all four of their 3-point attempts in the first period and failing to create second-chance opportunities.

High Point’s Camryn Brown face-guarded preseason All-American guard Lexie Brown whenever Duke was in its half-court offense in an all-out attempt to deny any passes. But the approach backfired, as Camryn Brown, the Panthers’ third-leading scorer, picked up two early fouls and took a seat on the bench barely four minutes into the game. Lexie Brown, meanwhile, led Duke with 13 points at the break. 

The Blue Devils never trailed in the first half, but were far from dominant—though they led by as much as 13, they could not separate themselves from the Panthers (1-2) until late in the half, largely due to the hot hand of Preseason Big South Player of the Year Emma Bockrath, who had 14 points before halftime and finished with 21 after getting into foul trouble.

“[We have not had] defensive tenacity for 40 minutes. We’re kind of in and out with that, and that’s a problem,” McCallie said. “[I’m] really disappointed—look at [Bockrath], we had her spotted and scouted and looked at, and we did absolutely nothing. My biggest disappointment [is] a lack of execution on the scouting reports. You’ve got to take out very good players, and she was exceptional tonight for them.”

Entering the game, the Blue Devils were hoping for more production off their bench after the reserves combined for just five points in their season opener against Grand Canyon. Initially, Duke struggled to get the bench going against High Point as well—graduate student Bego Faz Davalos found freshman Jade Williams for the Blue Devils’ first bench points of the game with less than a minute left in the first half. By the end of the game, the bench picked up its play slightly, finishing with 14 points combined.

Duke came out of the locker room energized for the second half and sent the home crowd into a frenzy on an early alley-oop from Brown to sophomore Leaonna Odom. The Blue Devils, who outscored the Panthers 50-8 in the paint, also began to feed the ball inside more to Erin Mathias, who finished with 11 points and seven rebounds coming off her first career double-double against Grand Canyon. As a team, Duke outrebounded High Point 46-26.

Mathias has looked much more comfortable in her new role as the go-to option down low for the Blue Devils, spending more time in the paint and less at the high post compared to years past. And though Williams and Faz Davalos are solid options for McCallie off the bench, it is clear that Mathias will be the workhorse in the paint this season. 

“I’m a senior now, so I’ve had a lot of experience under my belt at this point and my teammates have had confidence in me the entire way through,” Mathias said. “It’s just kind of my time to give back to them for all these years. They’ve always trusted me, they’ve always had my back, they’re constantly looking for me, no one’s selfish.”

After picking up her fourth foul, Bockrath spent long stretches of the third quarter on the bench, opening the door for Duke to go on a decisive 16-3 run to extend its lead to 21 entering the fourth quarter. For much of the game, the Panthers attempted to mimic Grand Canyon’s deliberate half-court offense against the athletic Blue Devils this past Sunday. But once Duke began to get out in transition more, High Point simply could not keep up. 

“I thought that we got more intense on defense as things went. It’s hard to compare the games. Grand Canyon held onto the ball longer on offense, so it made it a slower game,” McCallie said. “We had intensity again, not for all four quarters, but it grew as we went. We’re trying to get the start, all the way through the defense. But every game is different and every game breaks differently. The most important thing I can say is I thought we got better as a team.”

Next up for the Blue Devils is a trip to Villanova Sunday afternoon for their second of three road games in the first two weeks of their season.