The Blue Devils looked to continue a 30-game regular-season home winning streak Sunday afternoon and snap a 13-game losing streak against perennial power Notre Dame, but they came up short once again.
The fifth-ranked Fighting Irish pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat No. 19 Duke 72-54, led by hot 3-point shooting and 18 points from junior Marina Mabrey. After the Blue Devils pulled within six points with seven minutes remaining, Notre Dame closed the game on a 14-2 run.
“We just folded. We’ve done this before. We get down, we come back and then we fold,” graduate student Lexie Brown said. “I don’t know what it is we need to do to get over the hump. We just needed more people to step up and be more confident.”
Duke (18-6, 7-4 in the ACC) went big with its starting lineup again, surrounding Brown and Rebecca Greenwell with post players Erin Mathias, Jade Williams and Bego Faz Davalos. Redshirt sophomore Haley Gorecki, a regular starter for the Blue Devils, did not start Sunday due to a hip injury after missing Thursday’s game against Georgia Tech, but still played nine scoreless minutes.
“Obviously she’s a big part of what we do,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “When Haley is on the floor, it just lightens up everything for everybody. She’s her own threat—you’ve got to guard her. It’s a different dynamic for our team.”
The contest was scoreless for the first two minutes of the first quarter, with several attempts but nothing from either team. Williams was finally the one to break the streak, scoring on her fourth attempt at a layup and giving the Blue Devils the momentum to take the lead for the only time of the quarter.
Duke held Notre Dame to a single point the first four minutes of the first quarter with its aggressive defense. But it was not long before the Fighting Irish (22-2, 10-1) began to dominate play.
After trailing 5-1, Notre Dame took off on a 10-0 run, leaving the Blue Devils behind with the clock ticking down in the first quarter. But Duke looked once again to Greenwell to lead the team out of its hole. With seconds left on the clock, Greenwell drained her third trey to trim the deficit to one and swing the momentum back the Blue Devils’ way.
Duke quickly took the lead in the first minutes of the second quarter, but then lost it again. And so the pattern continued. There were eight lead changes between the two top-20 foes in the first five minutes of the period, but with four minutes left in the half, Notre Dame took the lead again, and this time almost for good. The Blue Devils finished the half trailing 33-29.
“Points off turnovers and fast-break points are critical spots for us to look at for things we’d like to control,” McCallie said of the 22 points off turnovers and 19 fast-break points the Blue Devils allowed that helped the Fighting Irish pull in front.
Brown, held only to two points in the first half, showed up after the break once again. The graduate student quickly nailed a jumper and immediately followed it with a steal and a 3-pointer early in the third period to tie the game at 36.
Another veteran also came alive for the Blue Devils in the second half. Bego Faz Davalos, scoreless before the break, made back-to-back layups followed by a free throw to keep the Fighting Irish from creating separation for the next few minutes.
But every time Duke seemed to be making its way back into the contest, Notre Dame made another bucket to stay in front. With just more than a minute left in the third quarter, the Fighting Irish stretched the lead to double digits for the first time of the day.
The Blue Devils tried to make one last run after entering the fourth quarter down 54-46, but the Fighting Irish shut them down yet again.
“We’re going to have to watch film on this, learn from it, take it to heart, and hope it motivates us through the rest of the ACC season,” Greenwell said. “We still have a long road ahead of us, but this one hurts.”
Duke will be back on the floor Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium to wrap up its three-game homestand against Wake Forest.
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