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Duke women's basketball survives late missed free throws against Maine

<p>Leaonna Odom had 16 points and five rebounds Thursday.</p>

Leaonna Odom had 16 points and five rebounds Thursday.

After a disappointing season opener, redshirt junior guard Haley Gorecki came alive with a double-double against Maine Thursday, but her lights-out performance was barely enough to prevent a stunning upset from the Black Bears.

Despite ghastly free throw shooting in the clutch, the Blue Devils managed to stave off a late run from Maine to win 66-63 Thursday at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine. Duke shot worse from the charity stripe than from the field, converting just six of fourteen free throw attempts on the night—a measly 43 percent. This shortcoming nearly did the Blue Devils in, but the Black Bears failed to capitalize on two crucial missed free throws from Duke. Notwithstanding specific areas of weakness from her team, head coach Joanne P. McCallie remained extremely positive about the win.

“I loved the plays that were created at the most difficult times,” McCallie said. “That’s what it’s all about. The crowd gets loud, things go crazy, people step up. I liked our poise. We had some good composure, and that’s what it takes to win close games.”

The Blue Devils (1-1) came into the game with the second-youngest squad in school history and were coming off an 84-58 drubbing at Northwestern Sunday. Maine (2-1), on the other hand, returned all five of its starters from last year’s squad, which made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004. It had also won both of the previous two games by double digits. Nevertheless, Duke built up a 12-point lead by the middle of the second quarter, propelled by Gorecki’s shooting stroke and Maine’s awful 3-point shooting. The Black Bears shot only 2-15  beyond the arc in the first half.

Maine stayed in the game by dominating the Blue Devils on the glass. Duke was outrebounded for the second straight game, 27-33, against a much smaller team. In fact, Maine's 5-foot-10 guard Tanesha Sutton grabbed five boards over the heads of taller Blue Devil players. The Black Bears’ 12 offensive rebounds led to 11 second chance points, keeping the game within reach.

“That’s a very sore subject with me, going out and getting the ball,” McCallie said. “We were outrebounded last game and outrebounded this game—enough already. That’s going to have to be a real point of emphasis, and the team is going to need to take some pride in that.”

Gorecki dominated Maine individually Thursday. Her 12 first-half points were more than the 10 she scored in the entire game against Northwestern. She finished the game with 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting, a career-high 10 assists, career-high seven steals and six rebounds. Gorecki led Duke in all those categories en route to her second career double-double.

“[Maine] did a good job of playing out on me, but my teammates found me in good positions at the right times,” Gorecki said. “I was super wide open [because of] good screens.”

Junior forward Leaonna Odom also found her groove against Maine, contributing 16 points and three blocks. Notably, though, freshman guard Rayah Craig was given the starting nod over sophomore forward Jade Williams following Craig’s 13-point performance off the bench against Northwestern. However, Craig played only 13 minutes and missed her sole field goal attempt against Maine. Instead, a different freshman made an impact Thursday—Austrailian Miela Goodchild. Following her scoreless debut Sunday, the guard stepped up against Maine with two 3-pointers, a layup and a steal in the final period.

“It was nice to have Miela back,” McCallie said. “It was her first game where she actually wasn’t suffering from jet lag.”

Duke increased its lead in the third quarter. Two Gorecki assists within a minute led to two Odom layups, and then two Gorecki steals within 30 seconds led to layups for herself and Odom. Furthermore, Maine didn’t score consecutive baskets the entire quarter. Duke soon saw its lead slip away, though. An 11-2 run from Maine, led by junior guard Blanca Millan, in the final three minutes of play cut the Blue Devil lead down to 65-63 with only 30 seconds left on the clock. The Black Bears, racing against time, fouled four times in five seconds of play, sending the hot hand Gorecki to the free throw line. With the exception of the Splash Sisters and Erin Mathias, Gorecki was Duke’s top free throw shooter last year.

She missed the first free throw. Then she missed the second.

Maine head coach Amy Vachon called timeout, but guard Tanesha Sutton couldn’t get her jumper to go. Maine fouled again, this time sending sophomore forward Jade Williams to the line. Williams missed the first free throw but made the second—her only conversion on six attempts for the game. Maine sophomore guard Dor Saar’s potentially game-tying three-pointer didn’t fall, and Gorecki secured the rebound and the game for Duke.

“Maine’s a fighting team,” McCallie said. “They’re very well-coached. Teams don’t go away, you have to make teams go away. I don’t think we did.”

Next up for the Blue Devils is their home opener against the Phoenix of Elon. They play at 2 p.m. Sunday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. A victory is a victory, but the free throw and rebounding troubles are causes for concern. While Duke has flashed its talent in the form of Gorecki and Odom, the team needs more game experience to improve. A tight game like Thursday’s will serve it well for the future.

“This game is worth two games because of the environment and the time and score,” McCallie said. “We’re in November—we still don’t have our team full. We’re going to build on what we currently have…. We got an outcome we wanted, but there’s a whole process that we would like to be very different.”

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