For much of Thursday night, it looked like a win just wasn’t in the cards for Duke, with a rushed offense and poor shooting plaguing the team from the opening tip.
But, in the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils kicked it into a different gear and fought through a wall of atrocious statistics thanks to late-game heroics from Haley Gorecki and Mikayla Boykin. Despite turning the ball over 25 times, going 4-for-17 from beyond the arc and shooting 35.2 percent from the free throw line, the Blue Devils' grit and defense propelled them to a historic win in Cameron Indoor Stadium against Notre Dame.
“I think we could probably be better to ourselves with better starts in that type of situation, but you have to love a team with grit and fight,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Mikayla made some huge plays that were so important to our team. One of them was defensive. I know we think of Mikayla on an offensive level, but the steal she got at high post was very significant. Haley’s rebounding was fantastic.”
Duke may have won its battle against Notre Dame, but it was by no means a pretty game to watch, indicating it has a long way to go if it wants to survive the gauntlet of ACC play.
But, as has often been the case this year, it was hustle and hounding defense that propelled the Blue Devils to a win. They held the Irish to under 30 percent shooting and forced 25 turnovers. Boykin, who has been battling knee injuries for the past two seasons, has come back and propelled Duke to two wins in a row, with this win against Notre Dame marking the end of a 15-game losing streak to the Fighting Irish.
“We had a tendency to go for the home run when a single or double would be just fine,” McCallie said. “We tried a couple home run plays that didn't quite go our way. I love the aggression. And more importantly, I love the grit.”
The Blue Devils only managed four points in the first quarter of this one, matching their lowest point total in a fourth quarter in program history. From the beginning, they had to play from behind. Yet they kept fighting and, despite only leading for 49 seconds of the matchup, managed to find a way to win and bring themselves back to an even 3-3 in conference play.
“We don’t like playing behind,” Boykin said. “But I think it’s very important that our team stepped up and got each other together and just wanted to keep playing. We kept telling each other in the huddle ‘one stop and a score, one stop and a score.’ And that's what we did down the stretch.”
The Blue Devils have shown they can hang in any game, no matter how the box score reads. And, after a series of close wins at home, they’ll get the chance to show their grit again against Clemson.
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