Sunday afternoon is the time people flock to Pitchforks, getting their tasteful brunch of the day. The 14th-ranked Florida State Seminoles stepped into Cameron Indoor Stadium Sunday afternoon, drowsy and unenergetic, much like the Pitchforks-inhabiting students. What Florida State didn’t realize was that instead of being a customer, it was the daily special on the menu.
The Blue Devils weathered the storm and came out victorious from a 66-64 nail biter to climb to the third spot in the ACC standings. Haley Gorecki tallied 21 points, 14 of them coming from the charity stripe, while Leaonna Odom scored an efficient 18 points.
“This [Blue Devil] team has been in the tunnel and totally focused,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “They haven’t been doing anything but focusing on the game in front of us, and everybody, they have come together to play. That’s part of our thing right now, it’s us focusing on us and anything can happen, and that’s exactly the position we want to put ourselves in.”
It’s been almost two years since the last Blue Devil victory against a ranked opponent, and Florida State’s awakening in the final minutes only made this victory that much more memorable.
With less than five minutes left on the clock in the final quarter and Duke (15-10, 9-5 in the ACC) up by nine, the Seminoles seemed to have it together for a brief stretch. Nicki Ekhomu and Sammie Puisis tallied four consecutive field goals for the visitors, three of which came from beyond the arc to give Florida State (20-5, 9-5) a two-point lead.
In a moment of crisis, a familiar situation that has happened time and time again this season, Odom and Gorecki took over the game and put the nail in the coffin.
“We just knew we needed a bucket at the time,” Odom said about her tandem play with Gorecki. “So, we’ve just got to create and we’re [some] of the couple of playmakers on the team, so we just had to do what we normally do.”
Odom first hit a signature pull up jumper from mid-range to tie the score, following that shot up with an alley-oop finish at the rim to reestablish Duke at the front.
Ekhomu, the Seminoles' leading scorer Sunday, responded with an acrobatic off-balance floater which earned herself two chances at the free throw line. She hit both and tied the game once again with 1:22 on the clock.
The game remained tied until Gorecki, the star of the afternoon, finished with a clutch performance despite shooting an uncharacteristic 21.4 percent from the field. The superstar guard maneuvered her way into the congested paint for a layup to give Duke the lead again as the clock ticked down to 13 seconds. After Ekhomu made a quick layup, Gorecki drew a whistle for her 15th and 16th trip to the charity stripe. She converted both, leaving only three seconds for Florida State.
Ekhomu’s impressive run came to an end as Gorecki perfectly defended her last-second 3-point attempt to terminate the Seminoles' final hope for a lucky escape.
Apart from the last five minutes of the game, Florida State couldn’t match the intensity level of the Blue Devils the entire afternoon, with sloppy possessions and an uninspiring outing on the boards. The team started off the game with a horrible 2-of-9 shooting spurt and had two four-minute-long scoring droughts in the second and third quarters. Points in the paint amounted to half of its total scores in the first half and prevented a total collapse.
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On Duke’s end, Kyra Lambert shared the load of ball handling with the dynamic Gorecki-Odom duo, and her two treys in the first quarter helped Duke jump to an early first-half lead. Despite getting injured in an accidental bump with Odom in the second half, the gritty point guard contributed a team-high three steals, one coming in the last minute of the game.
Onome Akinbode-James and Jade Williams combined for 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting against a very aggressive Florida State frontcourt. Akinbode-James continued her tremendous work on the boards from the Blue Devils' last game with five offensive rebounds, finishing consistently through contact.
Duke hopes to ride this wave of success against Virginia Thursday evening at Cameron Indoor Stadium, looking to capture its first five-game winning streak since the 2017-18 campaign.