Forward Haley Peters finished with a double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists) to lead the Blue Devils up front while guards Chelsea Gray (20 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists) and Alexis Jones (12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) contributed from the back end.
"I was very proud of Haley, a terrific game for her,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie stated after the game.
“She battled all night long. They have some nice big bodies and Haley was just tough and aggressive rebounding and making a lot of things happen.”
“Really proud of our kids in their toughness and fight,” Wolfpack head coach Kellie Harper said afterwards.
“Duke’s a very, very good basketball team.”
Remember when we last met?
After securing the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) regular season title last Spring and as the top-seed in the conference tournament, the Blue Devils were stunned by the ninth-seeded Wolfpack, suffering a 75-73 loss, and denied the opportunity to advance further towards the ACC Tournament title.
With that memory in mind, Duke expected nothing less than the gutsy performance that NC State put forth in front of its home crowd.
“It was revenge kind of game and we wanted to make a statement when we came here,” Gray said.
Defense doesn’t rest
Both teams came into the game with impressive offensive numbers, but their defensive play minimized the explosive scoring output that was expected from both teams.
Instead, Duke’s full court press and midcourt traps slowed but did not negate NC State’s ability to advance the ball, and the Wolfpack’s ability to clog the lane with bodies pushed Duke to drive harder to the hoop as it struggled from beyond the three-point line, shooting only 2-of-14 from there all game.
Shooting well below their season averages, and with many missed shots coming from all areas on the court, Duke (39%) and NC State (32%) had to rely on scoring in the paint and from the free throw line.
Even with tough defensive coverage coming from the Wolfpack’s twin towers in Markeisha Gatling and Kiana Evans, Peters, Gray and Elizabeth Williams (9 points, 5 rebounds) helped to score more than half of Duke’s points (36) inside and down low around the basket.
“They’re nice, big strong players,” McCallie said of Gatling and Evans.
“Chelsea did what an All-American point guard does down the stretch and that is to have great poise and execution of the offense.”
Strong off the bench
Even with Duke’s ability to switch defenses often, NC State relied on effective substitutions to allow bench players like Len’Nique Brown (9 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) and Evans (8 points, 2 rebounds) to outscore the Blue Devils’ reserves, 21-4, and keep the score close throughout the game.
“We try to get a good rotation with our bench and have some kids that come in and do a lot of good things for us” said Harper.
With both teams committing only 27 turnovers combined, the back-and-forth pace on the floor was highlighted by closely-guarded play that resulted in numerous changes in ball possession as a result of steals and jump ball possession calls.
Coming off the bench, Brown’s drives to the basket throughout the game put her on the free throw line, allowing her to contribute a 7-8 performance from there while Evans dropped unexpected three-point bombs that Duke never expected of her.
Sharing in the spoils
As Duke led 17-8 with just over 12 minutes to play in the first half, the Blue Devils were poised to engineer one of their patented scoring runs to outdistance themselves from the Wolfpack, but it was Brown and Evans who helped to keep the score close by halftime.
Both players led the Wolfpack on a 12-6 run and narrowed the Blue Devils lead to three points, 23-20, with just under eight minutes to play.
From there Burke, along with forward Krystal Barrett and guard Ashley Eli extended NC State’s run by six more points as Duke struggled to find the basket, giving the Wolfpack its largest lead of the game, 26-23, with 5:40 to play.
Not to be outdone, the Blue Devils put together an 8-2 run on the efforts of Jones, Gray, and Peters to retake the lead before the half ended.
Duke’s bench players, Allison Vernerey, Ka’lia Johnson, and Richa Jacskson all contributed blocks, steals and rebounds that helped to contain NC State’s offense, as the Blue Devils carried a 31-28 lead into the intermission.
Unexpected long bombs
The first ten minutes of the second half were highlighted by numerous defensive stops and offensive scores.
Neither team backed down as they each traded big plays, back and forth, and kept the scoreboard rolling.
A few of those plays in particular included Evans hitting her second three-pointer of the game and Burke dropping one from the beyond the arc – both rare occurrences and ones that Duke did not expect to defend against.
They were big plays that McCallie talked about after the game.
“I did not expect those 12 points and threes,” she said.
“The two by 52 (Evans), I mean come on – she hasn’t even shot one this year. And even 44 (Burke), she’s shooting 18 percent.”
Regarding Evans’ scores from the perimeter, Harper acknowledged that although it was a surprise for many to see, she and her staff knew that she was capable of executing such shots.
“She’s got a really nice touch out on the floor,” the Wolfpack coach said.
Race to the finish
Hanging on to a 45-42 lead with 9:53 to play, the Blue Devils worked hard to maintain it for the rest of the game, and held off the Wolfpack while it made another attempt to retake the lead.
While NC State guard Myisha Goodwin-Coleman scored two free throws to bring the score to within one point, 45-44, just two minutes later, Duke also maintained its steady performance from the free throw line.
Shooting 80 percent from the line during the half, the Blue Devils converted six-of-seven attempts to extend their lead to its largest margin of the game, 61-50, with 2:27 to play.
From that point on, as valiantly as the Wolfpack fought to stay close on the effort of Brown’s 7-of-8 free throw performance, they could not get closer than four points.
Duke sealed the victory with free throw points contributed by Jones, Peters and Williams to end the game, earning another win on the season, and to stay undefeated at 12-0.
“They got some long rebounds in the second half and were able to reset the offense and really put a pin in our bubble,” said Harper.