It’s official. Duke is now in sole possession of first place in the ACC.
The 16th-ranked Blue Devils took on No. 9 Notre Dame Sunday afternoon in South Bend, Ind., where they defeated the Fighting Irish 57-52 to reach 20 wins for the first time since the 2017-18 season. The game, held in Purcell Pavilion, was between two teams tied for first in the ACC at 9-2. However, as basketball fans have learned time and time again, a game between two evenly matched squads is sure to be a nail-biter, and this contest was no exception.
“It could have gone either way,” head coach Kara Lawson said after the game. “Fortunately for us—late—we made enough plays to win. They’re an excellent team. I’m proud of my players for finishing the game.”
Duke (20-3, 10-2 in the ACC) trailed by as many as eight points, but after three straight Fighting Irish misses late in the third quarter, redshirt junior guard Jordyn Oliver got the ball back on a defensive rebound that would ultimately lead to the team’s win. From there, senior guard Celeste Taylor got the ball to graduate forward Taya Corosdale, who drove through the paint for the layup to give Duke a 43-42 lead with 2:06 left in the quarter. Though Fighting Irish forward Maddy Westbeld followed up with a layup, Oliver added a score off a turnaround jumper to give Duke the lead again, which it would keep for the rest of the game.
The final quarter featured a scoring drought of more than four minutes on both sides. The scoring picked up again after a jumper by Duke senior Elizabeth Balogun, as Notre Dame star Olivia Miles and Oliver both contributed to the score to make Duke’s lead 55-52 with 2:44 to go. Another drought followed, culminating in two game-sealing free throws by Balogun off a turnover by Westbeld with five seconds on the clock to end the game.
“I thought we were tired out there in the fourth quarter of some stretches, where there wasn’t a timeout and everything. I think we just gutted it out, we fought through the fatigue and we just made a couple more plays,” Lawson said in reference to the scoring droughts throughout the second half.
The Blue Devils found their footing first Sunday, with Taylor assisting sophomore guard Reigan Richardson for the score just 14 seconds into the game. Shortly after, unsteady action from both teams led to back-to-back turnovers from Duke’s Kennedy Brown and then Westbeld. The latter turnover gave the Blue Devils another chance to add to its two-point advantage, with Day-Wilson scoring her first points.
Despite a slow start in the opening minutes, Westbeld, Notre Dame’s third-leading scorer, seemed to get more comfortable on defense. With 7:40 left in the quarter, she grabbed a rebound off a missed pull-up jumper from Richardson. The junior forward then drove to the basket, where the ball found teammate Sonia Citron, who added a jumper for her team’s first points. Thirty seconds later, Westbeld added a 3-pointer of her own to make the game 5-4 in Notre Dame’s favor.
“We struggled to guard Westbeld, well, was she terrific, and Citron. They’re just hard to guard,” said Lawson.
Missed opportunities on both sides dominated the next two minutes, with four missed shots, three turnovers and two fouls against Citron and Miles. The second foul, from Miles, led to two free throws for Taylor, giving Duke the lead again. The Fighting Irish (18-4, 9-3), though, exited the first quarter leading 16-12.
Duke caught up to Notre Dame quickly in the second quarter, as Day-Wilson’s layup at 9:40 and then another jumper off of a Westbeld turnover made the contest 16-16. A near two-minute scoring drought in the early minutes of the quarter followed, with both teams remaining aggressive on defense.
“We really challenged all of our players, but particularly our frontcourt players. ‘You have to battle it in there today, you have to fight, you have to be able to make that not a plus margin for them.’ We wanted to be even on the boards,” Lawson said.
Free throws were a constant source of scoring for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame shot 5-of-10 from the field in the second quarter while Duke shot 6-of-14 in the quarter, and the home team led 31-25 at the half.
Duke returned from the locker room ready to make a splash and did so within the first minute of the second half on a driving layup from Taylor, assisted by Richardson. While a foul against Balogun gave Notre Dame a point at the free throw line, the senior wing quickly made it up with a 3-pointer to make the score 32-30.
Taylor led Duke on both sides of the ball with 14 points, five assists and eight rebounds, all team-highs. By the final buzzer, the Blue Devils had eight different scorers in the win. Balogun and Day-Wilson each added nine points, and Corosdale and Oliver each added eight.
“We needed to have depth in our scoring and depth in our players—playing well and contributing,” Lawson said.
The Blue Devils will get back on the road to battle Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass., Thursday at 7 p.m.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.