As they have consistently done throughout their time in a Duke uniform, graduate students Rebecca Greenwell and Lexie Brown carried the Blue Devils Sunday afternoon.
Greenwell matched a career high with 31 points and Brown added 22 as No. 20 Duke topped Tobacco Road rival North Carolina 70-54 on Senior Day at Cameron Indoor Stadium. After a back-and-forth first half that saw two unsportsmanlike flagrant fouls assessed to the Blue Devils and seven lead changes, Duke roared out of the gates in the second half and went on a 20-0 run spanning almost nine minutes in the second and third quarters to take a 46-29 lead.
“At halftime we talked about rebounding in a non-technical game,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “After that, the players just took over on the floor and did what they do, and I think we went after the ball more. We were much more aggressive defensively, and being as aggressive as we were, we got some great looks and fast-break takes. It came from the team—it came from their focus, their energy and toughness.”
Despite the quick 17-point advantage in the third quarter, last month’s 92-86 overtime defeat in Chapel Hill was fresh on the team’s mind. Duke squandered a 19-point lead in that contest, as Tar Heel redshirt junior Paris Kea scored a career-high 36 points.
The Blue Devils (22-7, 11-5 in the ACC) kept Kea in check throughout the contest, as the Tarboro, N.C., native finished with just nine points and five turnovers in 34 minutes of play. After a fast-paced first quarter, Duke’s defense settled into form, forcing 20 turnovers and holding North Carolina (14-15, 4-12) to a woeful 31.1 percent shooting from the floor. Brown led the Blue Devils with four steals.
“You don’t let a person score almost 40 points on you,” Brown said. “You take that personally. Of course it’s a team effort. I think everybody did their role when she was around them. Her sweet spot was in that high post, and I thought our bigs did a great job shutting her down, digging on her, making her give the ball up.”
With the score at 31-29 heading into the locker room, Duke needed to pick up the tempo after a sloppy second quarter. With intense defensive pressure on the perimeter, the Blue Devils started to run the floor and find a string of open layups. Greenwell led the charge with 15 of the team’s 25 points in the third quarter, including three deep 3-pointers off assists from Brown, who had a double-double with 11 assists.
Greenwell delivered an electrifying performance in her final regular-season game in Cameron, also posting a double-double with 13 rebounds to go along with 7-of-15 shooting from beyond the arc.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet, but it was just so much fun,” Greenwell said. “I knew coming into it that it was a special day, but you don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself and try to do too much just because it’s Senior Day.... To get that win in front of all those fans means everything. Hopefully we’ll be able to host again in the [NCAA] tournament, because I would love to do that again.”
After coughing the ball up 26 times against North Carolina—which has lost nine consecutive games dating back to that Jan. 21 win against the Blue Devils—Duke demonstrated better discipline as it has down the stretch in the last four games. The Blue Devils dominated the turnover battle and posted 22 points off Tar Heel giveaways, including 11 in the third quarter, when Duke outscored the visitors 25-7 to finally pull away.
Although North Carolina collected 14 offensive rebounds—somewhat surprising due to the height advantage in Duke’s starting lineup—the Blue Devil forwards outshone the Tar Heels on the offensive end and outscored them in the paint 34-10.
With Sunday’s win and Notre Dame’s win against N.C. State, Duke will have the No. 4 seed and a double bye in next weekend’s ACC tournament. The Blue Devils will play Friday in Greensboro, N.C., for a chance to potentially face top-seeded Louisville in the semifinals. Duke lost in the championship game to Notre Dame last season.
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“We’re just excited to take one game at a time,” McCallie said. “All I can say is one game at a time. Last year we were in the championship, and that was a great experience for us. But those games are hard, they’re all hard. The first game is hard, the second game is hard. We can do well, we just have to remember how hard it is, and the rebounding and the little things make a big difference.”