After a fruitless first ACC match, the Blue Devils came back alive with Cameron Crazies cheering in the background as they played their first home conference game.
The 15th-ranked Blue Devils bounced back Sunday against No. 17 Notre Dame, defeating the Fighting Irish 72-70. The two teams played a balanced match throughout, yet Duke out-schemed the Fighting Irish thanks to contributions from each player logging minutes and a 10-of-20 mark from downtown to beat an opponent which had an 11-2 record before coming to Durham.
“[I’m] just proud of my team, the resilience they showed—after losing Thursday in Blacksburg—and you know, that’s what this league is, it’s every single night, it’s a real challenge,” head coach Kara Lawson said at the postgame media conference. “I thought they responded well, played together well, met the physical challenge that Notre Dame brought. And we were able to make enough plays down the stretch to get the win…. I think it was a big home win for us.”
With 1:59 left on the clock, Elizabeth Balogun ran through the paint to shoot a jumper and make the score even. From there, Notre Dame star Maya Dodson added a score on her side of the ball, changing the score to 70-68. However, the Blue Devils (10-2, 1-1 in the ACC) came back in full force, with Balogun, who led Duke on the afternoon with 27 points, three rebounds and two assists, adding back-to-back layups to make it a 72-70 Duke lead. With less than 30 seconds remaining, the Fighting Irish had one more full possession, but the tough Blue Devil defense held strong, restricting Notre Dame from getting inside the key.
With the contest being a difference of several points throughout, each squad had to improvise either through zone defense, Princeton offense or through steals and blocks to make a budge in the score. Plays similar to Duke’s last-minute defensive stand were typical from both teams, keeping the leads slim all afternoon.
“We kept our poise. That’s the first thing—you have to have your poise late. And then another thing we did was we kept attacking. We didn’t pull out and try to do something,” Lawson said. “That layup by [Balogun] with 30 seconds left where I could have called a timeout, I didn’t know if we had numbers or not, but she had been playing so well. With her size, she just went downhill and that basket was obviously a difference-maker for us.”
Unlike the team’s match against Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils came into the game against Notre Dame (11-3, 2-1) emphasizing offense. Both teams found ways to put points on the board, and they entered the second quarter with Notre Dame leading 19-16. The two squads then maintained scores within several points of each other, ending the first half with a near even split of the amount of time each team held the lead—Duke led the half for 44.2% of the time to the Fighting Irish’s 40.8% mark.
Balogun consistently scored when the Fighting Irish surged, and began the second quarter by adding two straight treys to go on a personal 10-point scoring run. In that same half, it was the efforts of Balogun, on a continuation of her stride from Virginia Tech, along with Lexi Gordon, that ensured the Blue Devils continued to score. Balogun and Gordon accounted for 24 of Duke’s 37 first-half points, and the two maintained high efficiency in their court time during the first half, with respective 2-of-3 and 2-of-5 marks from beyond the arc.
The Blue Devils brought back the defensive plays the team has become known for, managing three blocks and three steals, and limiting themselves to three fouls in the first half. By the time the half was over, Notre Dame only had a three-point lead on Duke.
“For the most part, we kept to our principles defensively, and we were physical,” Lawson said. “We battled on the glass, which was a really important key for us, as well. We knew that they could get second chances, and I thought we really battled on the glass.”
The Blue Devils charged on in the second half courtesy of 10 points from Celeste Taylor, eight from Miela Goodchild and 15 from Balogun. Notre Dame had consistent success scoring in the paint throughout the game, but the Blue Devils improved their defense to force the Fighting Irish to turn the ball over more, leading them to get more points in the paint off fast breaks near the end of the contest.
Duke finished the game with a respectable five blocks and 10 steals. Though the team undoubtedly shined foremost through its 3-point shooting, they recorded an efficient 29-of-58 clip from the field as well.
“I thought we didn’t settle for threes early in the shot clock, which is something we talked about as a group,” Lawson said. “We waited for the play to develop and then took those threes in rhythm.”
The Blue Devils will continue their demanding conference schedule at home in a formidable match against No. 16 Georgia Tech Jan. 6.
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