Every team needs a player to step up during crucial games late in the season. Junior guard Chelsea Gray fulfilled that role for Duke Monday, as she has done the entire season.
In the Blue Devils’ matchup with conference rival No. 7 Maryland at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Gray led the way as No. 5 Duke (22-1, 12-0 in the ACC) pulled away late in the second half to earn a 71-56 victory.
Gray had a career day for the Blue Devils in the fast-paced competition, scoring a career-high 28 points, dishing three assists and grabbing four steals. Junior forward Tricia Liston and sophomore center Elizabeth Williams added 17 and 16 points, respectively, to round out the majority of Duke’s offense.
Duke jumped out to an early lead, outplaying the Terrapins on both ends of the court, but Maryland (19-4, 10-2) stormed back into the game in the second half, and eventually took the lead with 10 minutes remaining in the game.
The night, however, belonged to Gray, who scored seven straight points in response to the Terrapins short run and put Duke up 49-44, a lead the Blue Devils would not relinquish.
“She gave us a little psychological boost.... It wasn’t surprising, though,” head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “We’ve all seen this of Chelsea. She’s a great player and it’s great to see her have those moments and take advantage of them.”
Gray notched 20 of her 28 points in the second half, sinking all 10 of her free throw attempts including four successive attempts that resulted from the ejection of Maryland head coach Brenda Frese with 3:51 left in the game.
“She’s an extremely difficult matchup. She’s strong. She’s physical,” Frese said. “She definitely had her way with us. She was able to attack off the bounce, did a great job reading screens coming off of it and making plays—that’s what great players do. I thought she was terrific tonight.”
Maryland’s core players, Alyssa Thomas and Tianna Hawkins, combined to score merely 20 points—16 points below their average production on the offensive end. Hawkins was largely kept in check by junior forward Haley Peters, who, despite not scoring in the game, was a presence on the defensive end for the Blue Devils.
“They probably neutralized each other, two great players, in terms of how they were defending one another,” Frese said. “[Hawkins] had an untypical night in terms of how she played. It was a game where our bigs didn’t get a lot of touches... in terms of the pressure that they faced all night.”
In addition to Peters’ defensive presence, Williams and Liston were major contributors for Duke both in points and rebounding. Williams grabbed 10 rebounds in her fourth double-double of the season.
Gray contributed to the intense play by taking charges and grabbing steals throughout the game. She added a major individual accomplishment in the game notching her 1,000th career point on a free throw in the first half, despite a less than stellar performance passing the ball.
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“It felt good,” Gray said. “I still had only three assists and three rebounds so there is definitely plenty of space to improve.”
For McCallie and the Blue Devils, Maryland was a major test and provided an opportunity to experience a tournament-style atmosphere in the middle of regular season play. The frenetic pace of the contest forced Duke to play a complete game to earn the win.
“It was a great team and game overall obviously we didn’t shoot as well as we normally do,” McCallie said. “You have to give credit to the game, it was a little bit funny back and forth. We didn’t get as many assists, it wasn’t all pretty, but it was a 40 minute battle, and that’s exactly what we needed.”