When Duke opened its season Tuesday, it wasn’t a 12-point performance for Jade Williams or the high-energy defense of the Blue Devils that electrified the crowd. It was Kyra Lambert.
Duke and Lambert officially kicked off their season Tuesday night with a 93-57 victory against High Point, the team’s 21st straight win opening the season at home. The Blue Devils' frenzied play never faltered after a quick start, carrying them to a 19-point lead at halftime. The Panthers were on their heels for most of the matchup, seemingly chucking up shots with reckless abandon and frequently losing Duke players on defense as the Blue Devils swarmed in from all angles.
Jade Williams finished the game with 12 points in only 15 minutes of playing time, and nine players scored more than five for the Blue Devils. Leaonna Odom crested the 1,000 point mark for her career with 19 in the contest.
"[It was] just a good hustle game" said head coach Joanne P. McCallie. "It was great to see everybody do a little something."
Lambert checked in midway through the first quarter, knee brace tightened perhaps a notch, to a standing ovation from the Blue Devil faithful. After missing 962 days with an ACL injury, after completing three surgeries, after sitting countless days on the bench—the former starting point guard was back, picking up a steal within seconds to remind fans what they had been missing all these days.
And she was nowhere near done.
The first quarter waned, and High Point inbounded the ball with 2.4 seconds to go. What they forgot was that Kyra Lambert was no longer on the bench.
The Cibolo, Texas native flashed across the court, nabbing the ball nearly on the baseline before taking two hard strides the other way. Crossing the three-point line on her own half, she took off on one leg and heaved the ball down the floor. And it found nothing but net. Cameron erupted in a roar that rivaled any at Madison Square Garden the same evening.
"Everything's not all peaches and cream," Kyra Lambert spoke of the road back from her injury. "[My coaches and teammates] kept on believing me, kept on talking to me, kept on supporting me through the highs and lows."
The Blue Devils (1-0) took Lambert's energy and let it course through their veins, adding an and-one by Leaonna Odom and a long Jade Williams trey to start the second quarter. High Point (0-1) added a pair of threes to match, making every attempt to outgun a team that overmatched it in both phases of the game. The Panthers took 25 threes in the first half, well over one per minute. The gameplan faltered, however, as they only sunk six of their tries from beyond the arc, and only 21.6 percent of their shots in the first half overall.
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Onome Akinbode-James featured early in the game with a couple of quick buckets, and Jade Williams got in the mix midway through the first quarter, knocking down a two and then stepping back for a three to give Duke a 16-7 lead with 5:24 to play in the first. The pair finished the first half with eight and 12 points, respectively. High Point seemed to struggle in the early going, faltering against a bigger and faster Duke team, as the Blue Devils extended their lead to 25-13 to finish the quarter.
The Blue Devils used a balanced attack throughout the first half, with Leaonna Odom, Akinbode-James, and Miela Goodchild all contributing towards the last minutes of the half. Kyra Lambert even checked back in to record a steal and an immediate assist. They took a 48-29 lead into the locker room, having thoroughly dominated the first 20 minutes of play.
The final frame was more of the same, with Duke keeping the pressure on and High Point continuing to have no answer. Odom padded the stat sheet a bit with another couple of buckets and a block, and four players made it into double digits, while freshmen Jada Claude and Jaida Patrick added baskets. The only players on the roster without a make were Uchenna Nwoke, who played only three minutes on the night, and Emily Schubert, who only saw the hardwood for two.
"We're just a hungry team," McCallie said of her players. "We've been right there with so many opportunities [in the past] and we just take them one at a time."
Duke travels to College Station, Texas over the weekend for a Sunday matinee with Texas A&M, a slightly better test of the team’s mettle. If the Blue Devils can continue to spread the offense around the way they did Tuesday night, Duke basketball fans can look forward to late-season contention from this squad, taking each opportunity one at a time.