Although her senior night will come a year from now, junior Leaonna Odom had one of best games of the season to close out the regular season.
Duke used a strong opening half from Odom against North Carolina to cruise to a 62-44 victory Sunday afternoon in front of a sellout Cameron Indoor Stadium. This marked the 19th time in program history that there was a home capacity crowd.
Odom and sophomore Jade Williams led the way for the Blue Devils. Odom finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds on 9-of-14 shooting. The Lompoc, Calif., native also registered four assists.
Williams contributed 15 points and registered a career-high 13 rebounds, which topped her previous mark of 11 achieved against Wake Forest in February.
“We’re getting the most out of this experience…. That speaks to an incredible team of fight-back. We’ve been in every game this year minus one, and for that one, a lot of people had not been in,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “It’s an incredible lesson, and we’ve got half of the story plus some of the story next year already occurring. That’s what we’re about.”
To open up the first quarter, Odom knocked down a pair of free throws before dishing the ball off to Williams for a layup. But the Tar Heels responded with a 7-0 run as the Blue Devils missed their next seven shots before freshman Onome Akinbode-James, fresh off her 14-rebound performance last Thursday, rebounded Odom’s jumper and laid it back in.
To regain the lead, sophomore Jayda Adams picked North Carolina’s Paris Key’s pocket and passed it off to Odom for the basket and the foul. Then with 25 seconds left in the first quarter, Adams hit a 3-pointer from the corner to put Duke up 16-10. Odom scored seven of the team’s first 11 points on the afternoon.
Odom then scored to the first two baskets of the second quarter to increase the lead to double digits, which forced the Tar Heels to use their first timeout. After the short break, the pace slowed down before Duke (14-14, 6-10 in the ACC) went on a quick run. With less than four minutes remaining in the first half, Odom stole the ball from Key and passed it to Gorecki who dished it back to Odom for the pair.
After the Blue Devils’ 7-0 run to extend the advantage to 15 with 2:32 to go, North Carolina (17-13, 8-8) cut the lead down to 11. Right before the halftime horn sounded, Gorecki hesitated from long range before eventually draining the corner three.
Duke’s 14-point halftime lead was largely thanks to Odom’s 15 points as she ran the offense from the point guard position. She sat for only the final minute as redshirt senior Sofia Roma gave Odom a break.
“I’m getting very comfortable running the point guard position,” Odom said. “This is probably my first actual year running the point guard position in my whole career and so it was a learning adjustment the whole season.”
The home team shot 40 percent from the field with a pair of triples while the Tar Heels shot 21.9 percent. Five of North Carolina’s seven makes came from behind the arc.
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Gorecki scored eight of her 11 points in the first half. Although Akinbode-James and Williams combined for only seven points, the frontcourt duo brought down 13 rebounds in the opening 20 minutes.
“I call it get your groove,” McCallie said about Akinbode-James’ recent play. “She’s figuring out how quick she is physically and what she can do. I think her and Jade are a really dangerous combination playing off each other.”
Freshman Miela Goodchild entered the contest in need of four triples to tie former Blue Devils Rebecca Greenwell. After she missed her first two 3-pointers in the first half, the Queensland, Australia native missed another 3-pointer with three minutes left in the third quarter. She finished with two points and two steals.
Williams, in the first 54 seconds of the second half, hit a pair of layups after she received passes from Odom and Goodchild, which extended the lead to 18. In the penultimate quarter, Williams added eight points as Duke held a 15-point led with 10 minutes remaining.
In the fourth quarter, Williams knocked down a pair of free throw to give Duke the 16-point cushion. But the Tar Heels scored seven in a row to cut the lead to nine with 6:41 remaining.
“There was a lack of energy at times,” McCallie said. “At times, offensively, I thought we were just sort of moving the ball around but not with as much purpose, so we got back the purpose.”
With just under five minutes left, Odom hit a midrange jump shot to send the lead back to double digits and then scored from underneath the basket to put Duke up 57-44.
“We just needed to refocus,” Williams said. “When they started to score, we just needed to bunker down and talk to one another and say, ‘This is not happening, let’s step it up on defense’ and I thought we did that.”
With 2:39 remaining in the game, Williams rebounded a Tar Heel miss. Three seconds later, the officials called a jump ball. Then North Carolina’s Janelle Bailey ran after the Duke’s players and was subsequently ejected from the game.
The Blue Devils will next see the hardwood March 6 in Greensboro, N.C., for the ACC tournament.
“Our whole thing is about getting better, getting ready,” McCallie said. “Getting ready for now, getting ready for the future, getting ready in every minute that we can. So, we got a bit better, and we’ll take it from here.”