DURHAM, N.C. – It was a hyped-up top-level game on ESPN’s Big Monday that started out looking very average, but eventually finished with some sizzle.
All in all, the third-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (21-1, 9-0) escaped with a 68-61 win over the Duke Blue Devils (16-7, 5-4) at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday.
It wasn’t a dominating win for the Irish, but it was a game which Duke put itself in a position to win.
However, it didn’t happen that way for the Blue Devils.
Notre Dame extended its current win streak to 14, still undefeated in Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) play, and ended Duke’s recent four-game ascent.
Duke played one of its better games of the season against a ranked opponent with three players posting double-digit finishes led by Rebecca Greenwell (16 points, 9 rebounds), Azura Stevens (14 points, 7 rebounds), and Kyra Lambert (10 points, 4 rebounds).
Amber Henson’s nine points and eight rebounds was a significant contribution in keeping pace with the Irish.
The Blue Devils outrebounded the Irish by a 49-42 margin, put together an 11-0 run late in the fourth quarter to take the lead, but a season-low 33-percent shooting performance couldn’t finish the job.
In the end, Notre Dame’s offensive output was better with four players finishing in double-digits, including a game-high 18 points from Madison Cable and a double-double from Brianna Turner (12 points, 13 rebounds).
“Obviously, it was a defensive game,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“Not the prettiest in a lot of ways, especially in shooting percentages, but we fell a bit short there. I really liked how hard our team played. I liked how we came out after the halftime and took the lead and were aggressive.“
Both teams shot only 2-of-12 during the first four minutes of play before the ball started dropping through the hoop.
Notre Dame led 8-4 at the 5:09 mark with the help of two three’s from Cable.
Stevens was closely guarded – double and triple-teamed when she touched the ball.
Greenwell’s first three of the game pulled Duke to within three, trailing 10-7 with four minutes to play in the quarter.
While Duke continued to struggle in converting from the paint, the Irish extended their lead to 17-9 two minutes later.
Angela Salvadores (6 points, 2 rebounds) then dropped her first points of the game from beyond the arc and breathed some life into the Blue Devils offense.
Greenwell scored the last points of the period, a three that cut the Notre Dame lead to 22-14.
Duke picked its pace up early in the second period.
Following two straight baskets from the Irish, McCallie called a timeout with her team trailing 28-17 two minutes in.
Down by eight, Duke’s defensive play looked energetic and spirited while pulling down missed shots from the irish.
“The guards did a really good job of forcing them to put the ball on the floor,” Stevens said.
A three-pointer from Ogunbowale maintained Notre Dame’s double-digit advantage with five minutes to play in the half.
Both teams threw up many unsuccessful shot attempts which worked more to Duke’s favor than Notre Dame’s.
The Blue Devils cut their deficit to under 10, trailing 33-24 with 1:10 to play.
After holding off the Irish during a critical end-of-period possession, a Stevens three kept Duke close.
Notre Dame led 35-27 at halftime.
Lambert was the catalyst for Duke’s resurgence in the second half.
She quickly pulled Duke closer to start the third quarter, converting two consecutive scoring attempts.
Stevens’ block on Kathryn Westbeld kept Notre Dame in check, as the Irish held a smaller six-point lead with 7:30 to play.
Henson’s putback cut the Fighting Irish lead down further.
As Notre Dame continued to struggle from the field, scoring only a basket during the first four minutes of play, Henson’s three from the right wing brought many in the crowd of 5,159 to their feet.
There was much reason to cheer as Duke only trailed by one.
A drive to the hoop and a foul call on a made basket from Greenwell 30 seconds later gave the Blue Devils their first lead of the game, 39-37, with 5:40 to play.
Notre Dame soon tied it and regained the lead with five minutes to play.
Duke wasn’t finished though.
Another block from Stevens on Ogunbowale led to the Duke forward eventually converting a three-point play to tie it up at 41 points apiece.
A similar drive from Salvadores then put Duke ahead 43-42.
Crystal Primm soon extended the lead to three with two successful free throws.
Defensively, the Blue Devils continued to outrebound Notre Dame which continued to struggle from the field, missing seven straight shot attempts during that time.
Cable’s three from the top eventually tied it up at the one-minute mark.
With the final possession of the period, Greenwell dished the ball off to Salvadores who then found Henson in the paint to finger roll a buzzer-beating score that put the Blue Devils ahead again, 47-45.
Spirits were high with the band playing and everyone dancing and pumping their fists in the air.
It was ‘game on’ with 10 minutes to play.
Allen quickly tied it up with a layup which Stevens matched just as quickly.
A steal from Lambert then set Duke up with a pick-and-roll between Stevens and Henson.
Henson was wide open and put Duke ahead 51-47.
Notre Dame worked to stay close, but the Blue Devils answered to keep its advantage.
A spectacular off-hand layup in traffic from Greenwell extended Duke’s lead to five points, leading 55-50 with seven minutes to go.
It got even more physical as every inch of the floor, on and off the ball, was contested by both teams.
“It was definitely chippy,” Greenwell said.
“It was just a tough game all around. The rebounds – you had to fight for them, you had to fight for loose balls.”
Another block on Westbeld gave Duke the ball, leading 55-52 with five minutes to play.
Allen’s high-arching jumper soon made it a one-point game which was followed by a three-point dagger from Cable.
The Irish were alive and well and soon put together a 9-0 run to regain the lead.
A missed shot attempt from Greenwell and a long outlet pass to Turner in transition put Notre Dame ahead 59-55 with 3:19 to play.
Cable intercepted a pass and extended the Irish lead to six points.
Missed shot attempts from Greenwell and Stevens showed the desperation in Duke’s shot selection as the game wound down.
“Bri on Stevens, I thought, was key and then Madison was on Greenwell,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said.
“I thought that Greenwell played well. I think that we were trying to help off some of them and trying to give them some of the shots that they took. Really trying to key on Greenwell and Stevens and trying not to let them be the ones that beat us.”
Something changed and it was evident that the momentum the Blue Devils used to pull ahead wasn’t there to repeat the feat.
Notre Dame led 61-55 with 1:12 to play as a play was under review and allowed both teams to finalize plans on how to end the game.
After Hannah Huffman’s layup extended the Irish lead, Lambert dropped a long three to pull the Blue Devils within five with 34 seconds remaining.
Allen’s free throws were matched with a layup from Lambert who bested that with a free throw.
Down four, Stevens was called for an intentional foul off the ball.
Luckily for Duke, Turner missed both free throws and kept the score at 65-61 with 27 seconds to play.
McGraw called a timeout to devise a plan to hold onto the ball as long as possible.
Duke chased and fouled and Cable hit one of two from the free throw line.
The Blue Devils couldn’t pull closer as Notre Dame continued to drop free throws and held on for the win.
It was a big opportunity lost for Duke.
“These games are at the margins and you have to win the margin battle and we didn’t,” McCallie concluded.