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Duke women's basketball holds off Wake Forest to stay undefeated in ACC play

Celeste Taylor led all scorers against Wake Forest with 18 points.
Celeste Taylor led all scorers against Wake Forest with 18 points.

Welcome to the top 25, Duke. 

As top teams around the country know, once you have that small number to the left of your name, the spotlight shines brighter. Combine that with a Wake Forest team searching for its second ACC win of the year, and Thursday evening’s matchup in Winston-Salem, N.C., had all of the ingredients for an upset. 

Nevertheless, No. 19 Duke escaped from its in-state foe with a 60-50 victory in Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Star senior guard Celeste Taylor led the way for the Blue Devils with 18 points and four rebounds. The win stretches the Blue Devils’ winning streak to nine, continuing head coach Kara Lawson’s best start in Duke blue. 

“I thought it was a gritty win for our team,” Lawson said after the game. “I'm encouraged coaching this group to 4-0 in our league playing against four tough teams.”

Junior guard Jewel Spear was the star for Wake Forest. Spear came to life in the third quarter, scoring 10 points to get the Demon Deacons back to within one in the tightly contested matchup. At the end of the third quarter, Duke (14-1, 4-0 in the ACC) found itself on upset alert, leading 44-41. 

“We just knew that we had to be alert to where [Spear] was at all times on the court,” Lawson said. “Everyone knew where she was. If she came off open, we switched out and took away the 3-point shots.”

However, entering the fourth quarter, Lawson’s team flipped the switch. A Reigan Richardson jumper capped off a 7-2 Duke run early in the quarter, stretching the lead to seven with just more than five minutes to go in the game. 

As the second-ranked scoring defense in the nation, allowing just 50.3 opponent points per game, Duke fell back on its identity to put away the Demon Deacons (10-6, 1-4). The Blue Devil defense allowed three field goals in the fourth quarter, keeping the game safely out of reach. 

“We out-rebounded a team by a double-digit margin,” Lawson said. “That's the first time we've done that in ACC play this year.”

The evening started slowly for the Blue Devils, as three turnovers and a missed layup highlighted the team’s first four possessions. Wake Forest spurted out to a 5-0 lead before Richardson woke up Lawson’s squad with two free throws and a 3-pointer to tie up the game at 5-5 midway through the first quarter. 

The quarter ended the same as it began, with uncharacteristically sloppy play highlighting the opening 10 minutes. At the end of the quarter, Duke was shooting 3-of-15, while its counterpart was 3–of-11 from the field. After six Blue Devil turnovers, the Demon Deacons led 10-9 as the quarter came to a close. 

“I thought Wake Forest did a good job of being locked in to our offense,” Lawson said. “We didn't get a good rhythm.”

Perhaps as disappointed with her team’s play as the officials’ management of the game, Lawson’s irritation was evident early in the second quarter. The third-year head coach appeared visibly upset after a couple of Duke foul calls that led to Wake Forest free throws. 

However, Duke’s apparent frustration reached its boiling point when sophomore guard Shayeann Day-Wilson was assessed a flagrant foul after an inadvertent elbow, leading to a four-point possession for Wake Forest to go up 21-15. 

A recurring theme: Who else to save the day but Taylor? The senior guard took it upon herself to get the Blue Devils going with back-to-back triples, tying the game at 21-21 and bringing her total to 10 points with three minutes left in the second quarter. 

“[Taylor’s] shotmaking and her overall energy on both ends saved us in that first half,” Lawson said. “She continues to be our leader, someone that we draw a lot of confidence from when she's on the court.”

From there, it was all Duke to end the second quarter, with two Elizabeth Balogun layups and two more Taylor jumpers, including a buzzer-beating step-back triple to send the Blue Devil bench into a craze. Duke led Wake Forest 32-24 after a 17-3 run to bring the game into its halftime interval.

Coming off of her USBWA National Player of the Week award, Balogun continued her decisive play with strong rebounding, defense and off-ball cutting. Her 12-point, 10-rebound double-double was just what the doctor ordered against a Wake Forest team full of fight. 

“I told the team at halftime [Balogun]continues to lead the way for us on the glass and we need to get her more help,’” Lawson said.  “She continues to lead us in those hustle plays in that way.” 

Richardson put the nail in the coffin against a spirited Wake Forest team with an and-one finish, coupled with a flex toward the bench, to push Duke’s lead to the final score of 60-50. 

Duke’s win was an impressive one. Not only did the Blue Devils stay undefeated in conference play, but they proved capable of emerging victorious as a true favorite, something that Lawson and her squad will surely look to continue as the year progresses.

Next up, Duke hosts Clemson Jan. 12 at 7 p.m. to continue conference play. 

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