Duke blew past High Point in its season opener thanks to a balanced offensive attack, but the story of Tuesday night was Kyra Lambert’s return to the court for the first time in more than 950 days.
With two minutes and 58 seconds left in the first quarter and Duke up 21-12, Lambert was subbed into a game for the first time to thunderous applause. She immediately made her mark on the game: just 17 seconds after being subbed in, she stole the ball from right under High Point’s nose.
And she was just getting started.
Lambert's steal with four seconds left in the first quarter is one she'll remember for the rest of her life. Standing within her opponents three-point line, she heaved the ball down the court about 60 feet and it found nothing but net, connecting for Lambert's first basket of the year and just beating the buzzer. The crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium went crazy.
"Boy, the gods of basketball are with Kyra, as they should forever be, based on the fact that she’s been out for so long," said Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie. "I hadn’t seen much of that—a 60 foot three made in a first quarter for somebody who’s just checking in, hadn’t played in three years. Can everybody compute that? Hadn’t played in three years, checked in, first quarter, and hits a 60 foot buzzer three. We have to pause on that one, we have to pause. That is quite a story, it’s quite a story.”
Duke ended the opening quarter up 25-13 and they never looked back, never letting it get closer than 12 points and eventually completely running away with the game. The Blue Devils were very obviously the better team, but it seemed like they were playing for more than just the victory: they were playing for Lambert and all that she has gone through to get to this point.
Lambert’s minutes were fairly restricted the rest of the night, as the game was never close enough to warrant overextending her, but she was able to add a pair of free throws, another steal, and an assist to the box score.
Lambert’s return to the court has been a long-time coming and she was clearly overjoyed to get out on the floor again, only finding out she could make her return in the last few days.
“I was just taking it day-by-day and I found out recently, within the last couple of days,” said Lambert. “So I was just really excited to get out there with my team. As coach said, it’s been a long time coming, so today was amazing, very emotional and amazing. I’m just so thrilled to be out here with my team.”
Last year, Lambert spent much of her time acting as a coach from the bench. It was clear from her court vision and leadership on and off the court Tuesday that her coaching experience should pay off for the Blue Devils in a big way this season.
“Watching for two years has given me a lot of perspective and a lot of chances to observe and see tendencies and see how I can better help my team get W’s,” Lambert added. “Just being in the mix now, it’s very different, but I’m just so excited to be out there. That’s all I can say, I’m just super excited to be out there. I’m just bouncing around.”
It's never wise to read too much into any one game, especially a season-opener. But after the all-around balanced performance from the Blue Devils that saw every starter score in double-figures and nine players score five or more points—combined with Lambert’s magical return—it’s hard not to have optimism going forward. It’s clear that McCallie is looking forward to the rest of the year, as the usually stoic coach couldn’t contain her smile and praise for Lambert in the post-game press conference.
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“We’re excited, we want every game to be its own story and to really attack every game with a great purpose," McCallie said. "I think we did and like [Leaonna Odom] said, I woke up this morning and I was like, ‘Yeah, Kyra!’ I mean, from my standpoint...she’s been in two weeks of practice looking amazing. She’s been fabulous and we’ll just take it one game at a time.”"