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Duke women's basketball escapes late against Marist

<p>Leaonna Odom carried the Blue Devils to victory Sunday.</p>

Leaonna Odom carried the Blue Devils to victory Sunday.

With the rocky start to the season that Duke is having so far, it’s becoming a trend to expect the unexpected, and for some time, it looked like the Blue Devils were on upset alert Sunday.

Leaonna Odom wouldn’t let that happen.

The junior posted a team-high 20 points on an impressive display from midrange as Duke avoided a major upset against Marist 64-56 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. In a back-and-forth, physical game, the Blue Devils gained separation in the final minutes to hang on for the win.

“[Leaonna] just has it and so does Haley [Gorecki] and so do other players,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “I thought Miela [Goodchild] hit two huge shots. These players know how to play, and they want to compete. There’s just no doubt in my mind that they’re going to figure things out.”

Odom has been adjusting to her new role as the team’s starting point guard, and although she made some mistakes with the ball, she put on a show of her natural abilities as a scorer.

“From a point guard perspective, [Odom] has been running it, although she’s very difficult on herself,” McCallie said, “She’s tough on herself, but she’s been doing a superlative job, and that’s in her future too as a professional athlete.”

The Blue Devils (5-3) looked very similar to their performance at Wisconsin, turning the ball over 19 times. They often forced entry passes into the paint and failed to keep their footing when they got it in, racking up one traveling violation after another.

Marist (6-2) relied heavily on its two leading scorers, as juniors Rebekah Hand and Alana Gilmer kept the Red Foxes in the game with timely buckets. Gilmer led the team with 25 points and Hand added 15 on three made 3-pointers.

The first quarter was hardly a sight to see for either side, as the game flew up and down the court with little control. The Red Foxes and Blue Devils finished the period with four and five turnovers, respectively. The score was knotted at 7-7 when Gilmer unleashed a quick six-point spurt, and Marist ended the quarter with a 13-11 lead.

Duke shot just 38.5 percent in the first half, while the Red Foxes also struggled, shooting 33.3 percent. But Marist came out as the more motivated team, anxious to grab the program’s first victory against the Blue Devils.

Things didn’t get much better for Duke in the next period, going down by as many as five. It turned out to be a true freshman in Goodchild that sparked Duke with two 3-pointers in the midst of a 12-3 run. The experienced Red Foxes did not let it get out of hand, however, and an Allie Best deep ball at the buzzer sent Marist to the locker room with an unexpected one-point lead.

Much of the pregame buzz came from the anticipated return of redshirt freshman guard Mikayla Boykin, who dressed and warmed up, but never saw the floor. The Clinton, N.C., native was cleared to play after a serious knee injury last December kept her on the sideline for most of her first season.

“Mikayla’s not back until it’s time to be in a game,” McCallie said. “She’s worked so hard, she’s got to come back at the right pace. You don’t take somebody who hasn’t played in a year and throw them into a time and score game.”

It was another game of runs in the third, with the Red Foxes grabbing a 41-36 lead before triples by Gorecki and Jayda Adams put Duke back on top by one heading into the final period.

In the fourth, with Marist leading 43-42, Odom decided to take over. The Lompoc, Calif., native scored the next six Blue Devil points that put Duke up for good. Gorecki, who struggled from the floor all night, scored a timely layup and converted two free throws to go up 56-50. She finished the game with 17 points despite shooting 4-of-17 from the field.

“Being a shooter, I know I’m not going to be perfect at the line,” Gorecki stressed. “We just talked about perfection—it’s not going to happen ever. But having that confidence level and knowing that my team has my back as well, and knowing that if they give me the ball I can knock a free throw down.”

The Blue Devils will continue their home stand when they welcome UNLV to Cameron Thursday, and a pivotal matchup with No. 18 South Carolina looms, which could be Duke’s last realistic chance at a major nonconference victory.