The Duke Blue Devils improved to 26-1 overall and 16-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) with a 75-59 win over the eighth-ranked Maryland Terrapins at the Comcast Center in College Park, Md. on Sunday.
Playing without guard Chelsea Gray for their second game since her season-ending injury occurred last week, the Blue Devils continued to ride the momentum they had built up during the latter part of a 61-50 win at home over the nineteenth-ranked Florida State Seminoles on Friday.
Freshman guard Alexis Jones scored a career-high 15 points and distributed a career-high nine assists to lead the Blue Devils over the Terrapins as they clinched their fourth straight ACC regular season title.
"That was just a great, great basketball game,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“It was great for our team. I'm just really proud of our team. We've had a rough week. We played hard, played together; very poised throughout the game. Just getting better as a team, that's what's important to us right now.”
Flashback to Friday, the Blue Devils only led the Seminoles by two points at halftime, 20-18, while trying to adjust to playing without Gray on the floor for the first time.
While not scoring many points, both Duke and Florida State battled for a combined 47 rebounds during that first half, and played with an intense back-and-forth tempo that increased as the game progressed.
By the time both teams returned for the second half, Duke put together a 20-4 scoring run over an eight-minute span that effectively put the game out of reach for the Seminoles.
Center Elizabeth Williams (20 points, 13 rebounds) and guard Chloe Wells (15 points, 3 rebounds) made the most significant impact in the win over Florida State, but it was a team effort that included a career-high 14 rebounds from Haley Peters, and well-rounded contributions from Tricia Liston (8 points, 6 rebounds), Richa Jackson (8 points, 4 rebounds), and Jones (6 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists), that finished the job.
“We are a new team, it is a new season,” McCallie stated after the game.
“It is not relevant (playing without Chelsea). What is relevant is our team. The important thing is that we go on as a team, we focus on this team being great. I thought greatness came in the second half."
Coming into Sunday’s game against Maryland, the Blue Devils continued to get better without Gray.
Not only did four players finish with double-digit scoring totals, but all seven players who played scored points.
Once again answering the question of whether her team would be successful playing without Gray, McCallie simply stated, "we don't think like that. We're just trying to get better.”
“You can imagine how a team would feel if they lost their very best player,” she continued.
“I just think it's great that our team knows how they can play. They want to step up and do what they do. That's what we do at Duke, just try to grow and get better. We don't pay attention to other people's thoughts."
As Williams (16 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals), Peters (15 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists), and Liston (15 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist) supported Jones’ effort, it was Duke’s ability to deal with a crowd of 15,853 in attendance and effectively contain Maryland’s offense that was most impressive.
"I thought they had a great game plan, we became a jump-shooting team,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese stated.
“I think we took too many shots from the perimeter, we settled. Credit their game plan that they had coming in."
As the question will continue to be asked, the Blue Devils will answer it by continuing to maintain their focus on winning basketball games.
If anything, without Gray in the lineup, McCallie and her squad will be able to show everyone watching them what ‘Duke basketball’ is really about – the team.