It was the second straight day that the Blue Devils and the Wolfpack faced off. But Sunday afternoon, the result left the Duke faithful with a smile on their faces.
In its return to Cameron Indoor Stadium, No. 17 Duke took down N.C. State 69-56. The Blue Devils saw a strong performance from graduate student Lexie Brown, who scored a career-high 34 points on 7-of-13 shooting from 3-point range. The showing was a stark improvement on the Suwanee, Ga., native’s season-low eight points Thursday at Louisville, which ended her 23-game double-digit scoring streak. A new streak began before even the first quarter of play was complete, and was something Brown expected before the game began.
“The last two games have been super frustrating for me. I’ve been in the gym a lot. I’ve talked to Coach P,” Brown said. “She just wanted me to get back to being confident in my offense and take the shots and just react to the defense a little better. Of course, credit to my teammates. They’ve given me all the confidence in the world and keep getting me the ball.”
In her first career start, freshman Jade Williams connected on a layup to kick off the scoring. It was first of three baskets in an impressive all-around game. In the first quarter alone, The Colony, Texas native registered two blocks, two assists and three rebounds. The freshman, who played a career-high 31 minutes in her last appearance, saw the floor for 27 minutes, which led to six points and a career-high seven rebounds on the afternoon.
Midway through the opening quarter, redshirt sophomore Haley Gorecki knocked down her first shot from long range to extend Duke’s impressive 10-0 start, and the Blue Devils (12-4, 1-2 in the ACC) were not done yet. N.C. State missed its first 11 field goal attempts and was held scoreless for more than seven and a half minutes to open the contest. The Blue Devils stretched their lead to 18-0 before a basket by senior Akela Maize put the Wolfpack on the board.
“I did really like our first quarter. I thought that was great execution,” Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Kind of special to hold a team down in the first quarter like that.”
Brown and Gorecki both scored in double figures in the first period, accounting for 21 of Duke’s 23 points.
“I don’t know that our defensive effort was quite where it needed to be,” N.C. State head coach Wes Moore said. “Of course, Lexie Brown was phenomenal, and maybe we, as a coaching staff, should have figured out something else to slow her down.”
The roles shifted in the second quarter, as the Wolfpack (12-5, 1-3) began to inch back into the game, scoring 10 early points to close the gap to 13. But four straight Duke points, including a jumper from senior Erin Mathias, stopped N.C. State in its tracks. After being held to only five first-quarter points, the Wolfpack brought their tally up to 25 as the road team headed to the locker room within 11 points.
The start of the third quarter was similar to that of the second, as the Wolfpack used an 8-0 run to bring the Blue Devil lead to only four.
“We started to be a little spoiled. We took quick shots and we did things that we stepped outside of ourselves a little bit, which provided them an opportunity, so that’s a great lesson for us,” McCallie said. “One of my messages to my team was you don’t have to be down to come back and be aggressive.”
Gorecki stopped the run with one of her three 3-pointers, and Brown took over in the closing minutes of the third quarter. After taking the ball from coast to coast, the graduate student hit a layup with a foul. On the next possession, Brown knocked down a 3-pointer and picked off a pass. She scored seven straight points to spark a 14-0 run that stretched into the start of the fourth quarter.
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“I thought Lexie led us big time,” Gorecki said. “If that doesn’t show what a senior captain is, I don’t know what does.”
N.C. State finished the afternoon strong, but did not pull within single digits again.
Graduate student Rebecca Greenwell returned after missing the last contest against Louisville and five of Duke’s last six games with knee pain. She did not attempt a shot and finished with two rebounds.
The Blue Devils travel to take on Wake Forest Thursday night in search of their first ACC road win and looking to score 70 points for the first time in a month.
“It was nice to see the ball go into the basket…. I got a little mental—I wouldn’t say unstable, but my mind was in a million different places the past few games,” Brown said. “So today, I just had to calm down and my teammates did a great job of feeding me and keeping me hot the whole entire game.”