A battle of the bigs took place at Cameron Indoor Stadium Thursday evening, as No. 19 Duke took on one of the tallest teams in college basketball in Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets came up short, however, against the Blue Devil frontcourt for the second year in a row as Duke extended its winning streak to three games. Graduate student guard Lexie Brown led the Blue Devils with 24 points in their 77-59 win.
“It was great physical play and great team play. I’m really proud of the way we fought together,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It was the physical way that Jade [Williams] played that was so important to us.”
Georgia Tech made it clear from the beginning that it would play a scrappy game, and Duke (18-5, 7-3 in the ACC) took some time to match its intensity before pulling away. McCallie started all three of her centers in freshman Jade Williams, senior Erin Mathias and graduate student Bego Faz Davalos. Williams in particular accepted the lofty task of defending the Yellow Jackets (13-10, 2-8) and dominated the paint with a breakout game.
Since being inserted into the starting lineup, Williams has continued to grow, getting more and more aggressive each time out. Her progress materialized against the Yellow Jackets, as she finished with 16 points, eight rebounds and six blocks. One block led to an impressive spin move on the next offensive possession for a bucket.
“We knew coming out that this would be a very physical game. I had a lot of pep talks from everybody that I needed to be strong, be physical,” Williams said. “When [Georgia Tech] started trapping everybody, it was kind of easy for [my teammates] to find me.”
After the Blue Devils trailed by four at the end of the first quarter, a smothering 3-2 zone opened up the game to begin the second period. Three early turnovers and a poorly executed zone by the Yellow Jackets let Duke go on an 11-2 run, topped off with a fast-break corner 3-pointer by graduate student Rebecca Greenwell off a Mathias steal.
“Whatever we were doing out there, I liked the IQ of our team defensively,” McCallie said. “I thought we made them work very hard, and to hold them to 32 percent [shooting] overall was terrific.”
Duke held Georgia Tech to just eight points in the second quarter, as it headed into the locker room at halftime up 40-28.
The Yellow Jackets elected to run a full-court press for the entirety of the game, which, despite Duke committing 17 turnovers, did not necessarily have the effect they hoped for. Many of the Blue Devils’ points came from wide-open layups after breaking Georgia Tech’s zone press time and time again. This contributed to Duke scoring 30 points in the paint and overcoming Georgia Tech’s size and speed.
The injury bug continued to plague the Blue Devils, as redshirt sophomore Haley Gorecki—who has had a breakout season so far—was sidelined due to a hip injury. Although the Blue Devils came away with a win, her contributions were missed in a hectic third quarter as Greenwell rested. During that time, Duke’s offense struggled playing with Brown as the sole ball-handler, which opened the door for the Yellow Jackets to make an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 11 at the end of the period.
“Sometimes when there’s adversity and bad things happen—which I feel we’ve had some bad things happen, especially for Haley—sometimes there’s something to look for, something to get from it,” McCallie said. “I thought our team showed a lot of savvy, because that lineup had never played together all year.”
Georgia Tech would not go away after being down by as many as 17 going into the fourth quarter, trimming the deficit to as little as four points. But the team’s effort was not enough to get over the edge, as the Blue Devils finished the game on a 16-4 run.
“We just had to put some stops together and get some defensive rebounds,” Brown said. “They were killing us on their offensive rebounds. That second-shot opportunity is how they were getting a lot of their scoring.”
Duke will next take the floor for a marquee matchup with No. 5 Notre Dame in Durham Sunday afternoon.
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