For the last few minutes of Thursday night's game, Cameron Indoor Stadium was rumbling with intermittent cheers of “Defense!” as the Blue Devils trailed Wake Forest by a few points in a back-and-forth contest.
After trading baskets and free throws, Duke huard Haley Gorecki drove in to get a score and tie the game 58-58 with 16 seconds to go. Defense was what the Blue Devils had used all day to stifle Wake Forest and keep the game in reach despite a rough day from behind the arc. Now, Duke had to get another stop.
Wake Forest brought the ball up the court and its guard, Gina Conti, stalled at the top of the key until there were only a few seconds left, then pushed in and tossed up a shot.
It sunk, putting Wake Forest up 60-58 and handing Duke it’s third straight loss.
“We needed to get that stop,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "But before all of that, being out-rebounded hurt us and we didn't really dominate, get the paint points we needed. We took a lot of three's, sometimes that happens—you take a lot of three's and they don't really work for you. So you have to have paint points, and we struggled there."
The Blue Devils (7-6, 1-1 in the ACC) and Demon Deacons (8-5, 1-1) battled back and forth all evening in a scrappy defensive game. Neither team could connect from behind the arc, with Wake Forest shooting 23 percent and Duke hitting 12.5 percent on 3-pointers.
After a pair of lopsided losses to South Carolina and FGCU to round out 2019, the Blue Devils looked to right the ship going into their main slate of conference play. And through the first half, it looked like they would.
The game kicked off with a pair of Duke 3-pointers that led to a quick Wake Forest timeout, but the Blue Devils would only hit one more from behind the arc for the rest of the game.
Sophomore guard Miela Goodchild and graduate guard Kyra Lambert followed up their early 3-pointers with aggressive defense, forcing a turnover when Wake Forest took more than 10 seconds to break through the pair and get the ball past the half-court line.
Duke won the first quarter, but the teams split the second. After going into halftime down by four points, Wake Forest came out firing. The Demon Deacons went on a 9-3 run to take the lead, but Duke fired back and finished the third quarter up by one.
The fourth quarter was a raucous game of cat and mouse. Wake Forest finally seized the lead with eight minutes left, and Duke spent the rest of the game inching closer and closer only for the other team to inch farther away.
Lambert and Gorecki scored when the team needed them, with the pair combining for 12 of Duke’s 15 points in the final quarter and keeping the Blue Devils within striking distance of a win in their second conference game.
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"There was a tenacious energy about it. It was a blue-collar basketball game," McCallie said. "There wasn't a lot of hot shooting by anybody, it was a lot of grinding it out."
But after losing their first conference outing to Miami in the waning moments, the Demon Deacons didn't let the last seconds slip by this time.
A bright spot for the Blue Devils is the return of redshirt freshman guard Mikayla Boykin, who checked in during the second quarter for her first minutes in a Blue Devil uniform since Jan. 2019.
The team was without senior forward Leaonna Odom, who is out with an Achilles injury for the second straight game. McCallie said that Odom tried to warm up for the game, but couldn't play.
After this scrappy start to the thick of the conference slate, the Blue Devils face a steep challenge as they head to Kentucky to take on No. 7 Louisville Sunday.
"We're in this together," McCallie said. "We've got to sort through things, learn from it, move onto the next and understand that there are many, many games in front of us and we have to take it one game at a time."