WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—Three days after No. 5 Notre Dame demolished the Blue Devils in South Bend, Ind., Duke could generate a feeling of ease facing a demure opponent in Wake Forest.
In fact, the game that ensued was so peaceful that the loudest cheers from the crowd came during the distribution of free t-shirts and after a youth gymnastics exhibition.
Duke helped keep the crowd quiet by taking the lead early and never relinquishing it Sunday, turning on cruise control for the majority of the second half en route to a 55-44 victory at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. In the face of redshirt junior guard Haley Gorecki’s struggles, the Blue Devils’ offense revolved around their bigs in their fourth conference victory. Sophomore forward Jade Williams scored a career-high 17 points and freshman forward Onome Akinbode-James nearly notched a double-double, pouring in nine points and grabbing nine rebounds in just 24 minutes.
“It’s important to play inside out,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Jade is a force because she can be inside and out, and Onome was a force inside, really working her body and looking for good shots. They’re a great combination. They need to continue to work well together because their games complement each other.”
Both teams alternated misfires in the first half. Duke (11-14, 4-10 in the ACC) shot 36 percent from the field, while Wake Forest (10-17, 1-13) managed a measly 25 percent. It was a balanced scoring effort for the Blue Devils—as all five starters put up points in the first quarter—and it would be much of the same for the rest of the game. The Demon Deacons outrebounded Duke 25-15 in the first half, but forced only six Blue Devil turnovers. The second frame especially disappointed. Duke scored only three points through eight minutes, to which Miela Goodchild added three at the last second of the half. At the intermission, the Blue Devils led 25-18.
Goodchild, coming off a record-tying eight 3-pointers at Notre Dame, stayed scorching Sunday. The freshman drained four of her eight attempts from deep and even ran the point in her 14-point performance. Goodchild was also never substituted out of the game, marking the first time that has happened so far this season. Meanwhile, volume shooter Haley Gorecki continued floundering from the floor. After her six-point performance against the Irish, Gorecki shot just 2-for-12 from the field on her way to scoring just nine points against Wake Forest.
The second half’s pace increased only marginally. Maya Banks finished a fast break layup in the third quarter to bring the game to 33-30, which led McCallie to call timeout. The Deacons brought the game within three once more, but Duke pulled away and Wake Forest never threatened again. Notably, after having only shot one 3-pointer all season, sophomore forward Jade Williams took two of them from the corner and made one Sunday.
“I’ve been working on [the three-point shot] after practice and shooting,” Williams said. “I am trying to be an outside and inside threat, so it was a comfortable shot for me.”
Points were hard to come by for either team, and the Blue Devils helped their cause by limiting their turnovers to 11—that’s eight below their season average. Stout defense in the final quarter helped Duke hold off the Deacons and snap its three-game losing streak. The Blue Devils held forward Ivana Raca to just 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
“[It was] a real defensive battle for us—very blue collar,” McCallie said. “It was the kind of game you had to get after it, defensively, rebound-wise and just some of the hustle plays.”
The Blue Devils will hope to carry momentum from Sunday’s victory into their next matchup against an up-and-down team in Clemson at 7 p.m. Thursday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It will be Duke's penultimate shot to climb up in the ACC standings before the conference tournament begins March 6.
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