Almost a month removed from a dominant victory against Wake Forest on the road, the teams met again Wednesday night with the Blue Devils in pursuit of a season sweep against the Demon Deacons.

Playing without third-leading scorer Haley Gorecki—after it was announced her hip injury would sideline her for the rest of the season—No. 19 Duke fought through a sluggish offensive performance at Cameron Indoor Stadium, escaping with a 59-51 victory despite trailing for more than 20 minutes in the contest.

“Our message is very, very clear, that if you want to be a great team, be a great player, you find a way to get past any adversity,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It might not be pretty, it might not be exactly what you want, but you find a way to get it done. This was my most favorite game of the year because of that fight.”

Although quieter than usual for most of the game, graduate student Lexie Brown turned on the jets in the fourth quarter to put the Blue Devils over the edge with a team-high 21 points and four assists.

“I’m pleased about the way she handled the situation out there,” McCallie said. “It was a lot of pressure.”

Although Duke (19-6, 8-4 in the ACC) played a strong defensive game, holding the Demon Deacons to just 29.8 percent shooting from the field, it did not take care of business as well as it should have on the offensive side early on, shooting an abysmal 33.3 percent from the field in the first half, before recovering with a 52.0 percent conversion rate in the second half. Bad offense for both teams led to a low-scoring, closely-contested game for most of the matchup, but Duke was able to pull away in the fourth quarter.

Wake Forest junior Elisa Penna, who led her team in scoring once again with 23 points, did not seem fazed by Duke’s zone, as she scored 10 of her team’s 17 first-quarter points. Penna’s relentless offense helped her team gain a 17-10 lead at the end of the first quarter. 

Wednesday evening’s matchup against Wake Forest (11-13, 3-8) marked the third game in a row McCallie chose not to start sophomore Leaonna Odom in favor of a three-center lineup. This strategy did not last long after the Demon Deacons opened the game with two uncontested 3-pointers, forcing Odom into the game. 

Duke’s defense came alive in the beginning of the second quarter, forcing six straight bad possessions for the Demon Deacons leading to five Wake Forest turnovers and a window for Duke to come back. Brown and fellow graduate student Rebecca Greenwell both hit their first triples of the night in the middle of the second period, Greenwell’s tying the game and Brown’s taking the lead for the first time following a steal by graduate student Bego Faz Davalos. 

“Defensively, I see us growing. We’re moving people around in different spaces. I see us getting better,” McCallie said. “I think holding them to 30 percent from the field was incredible because they have a player like Penna on their team.”

Both teams struggled to make baskets early on—at the end of the first half, both Duke and Wake Forest were making just a third of their attempts. The Blue Devils’ struggles on the boards allowed the Demon Deacons to acquire 11 second-chance points in the first half, which gave them a 28-27 lead as they entered the locker room at halftime.

A few empty offensive possessions for the Blue Devils to start the third quarter allowed the Demon Deacons to make an easy 7-2 run, forcing a McCallie timeout to regroup her players. McCallie’s speech worked, as Duke mustered an excellent defensive stand once again, forcing two turnovers and regaining the lead for the fourth time in the game off a 7-0 run of its own. The Blue Devil bigs began rebounding better as well, grabbing 12 third-quarter boards and reducing a 21-14 rebounding deficit to 28-26, still in Wake Forest’s favor. The Demon Deacons held on to outrebound Duke by two.

“I’m just really proud of our team. You really had to play hard in that game,” McCallie said. “Just a blue-collar game—I know it wasn’t a fan game, but it was very important to us to finish that and finish it aggressively.”

The Blue Devils will return to the floor Sunday afternoon when they travel to take on Clemson.