DURHAM, N.C. – The third-ranked Duke Blue Devils couldn’t keep pace with the second-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish and suffered an 88-67 loss to give up top spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Sunday.
Both teams came into the game undefeated in conference play, but only Notre Dame (21-0, 8-0) left with its overall win streak intact while ending Duke’s recent 11-game undefeated stretch.
For Duke (21-2, 8-1), a 39-percent shooting performance was its second-lowest of the season and presented a major obstacle to narrowing the lead that the Fighting Irish established and maintained throughout the game.
“Obviously a very poor game for us and a very good game for Notre Dame,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“When you give up more than 40 points in transition offense, that’s a bit of a problem. That’s a very good lesson for us as a team to try to be more immediate in our transition.”
The Irish won the tip and Lindsey Allen opened the game’s scoring just four seconds into it which eventually turned into an 8-2 lead during the first three minutes of play.
Notre Dame maintained a fluctuating point differential of two to six points throughout the first 14 minutes of the game before increasing their separation from the Blue Devils towards the end of the first half.
The bottom line came down to the fact that the Irish’s starting five trumped Duke’s starters at both ends of the court.
Notre Dame guard Kayla McBride led the offense in posting her first double-double of the season, finishing with a game-high 23 points, along with 11 rebounds and 5 assists, while Jewell Loyd (17 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists), Natalie Achonwa (15 points, 9 rebounds) and Lindsay Allen (15 points, 3 rebounds) helped to beat Duke for the fifth straight time in the two teams’ all-time series.
On the other side of the court, the Blue Devils got their expected scoring output from guards Tricia Liston (23 points, 1 rebound) and Alexis Jones (16 points, 3 rebounds), but a season-low two points for center Elizabeth Williams was a difference-maker.
With forward Haley Peters finishing below her season averages in scoring and rebounding (7 points, 6 rebounds), the Blue Devils were more or less playing with one less player on the court.
“We didn’t get a fourth scorer,” McCallie said.
“They had four in double figures and we had three. That’s unfortunate.”
Notre Dame’s ability to outmuscle and outrebound Duke 41-30, particularly under their own basket, was a key factor to limiting the Blue Devils’ biggest threat (Williams) in the paint.
“You have to give credit to great defense,” McCallie continued.
“And you have to say offensively, we didn’t move the ball well, or find each other or execute as well.”
It’s not like Duke didn’t have a chance to take control of the game, but when they were in a position to Notre Dame found the opportunity to widen the gap further and accounted for its 62 percent shooting output throughout the game.
With 7:07 remaining in the first half, following a jumper from Peters that narrowed Notre Dame’s lead to three points, 26-23, the Irish put together an 11-0 run that put them up to another level that the Blue Devils couldn’t come close to.
“I remember most of those,” Liston said of the baskets that the Irish scored to increase their lead intermittently.
“It would be them hitting a huge shot when we needed a stop. It was like a dagger.”
The Blue Devils kept as close as they could get, trailing the Irish 44-34 at the half.
While it looked as though the Blue Devils’ inability to score was the problem, it was their lack of making stops that made the difference according to McCallie.
“When I look on film, it will be more telling exactly,” she said.
“It was transition defense. It was getting the stops we needed. We never got the stops we needed. We never got the stops we needed, ever.”
Duke came out in the second half to outscore Notre Dame 12-9 during the first six minutes of play, trailing by seven points, 53-46.
However, another 9-0 run by the Irish more or less put the game away with 12 minutes to play.
During that stretch, Notre Dame’s Michaela Mabrey (8 points, 1 rebound) came off the bench and dropped a three and a jumper that were the daggers that thrust into any momentum Duke tried to build in trying to get closer.
“She had eight points,” McCallie said of Mabrey’s output off the bench.
“That was a good eight points for them. I think she was probably the key one. That was a key eight points. I thought her stepping up was very good for them.”
McGraw concurred on Mabrey’s clutch shooting: “I thought those two baskets were really big for us, and she has been doing that all year long.”
With Notre Dame’s lead ballooning up to as much as 23 points, 80-57, with just over four minutes to play, the combination of Duke’s inability to convert on shot attempts and turning the ball over didn’t allow them to get much closer.
“Well, there’s a lot to learn from this game – a lot that we will see on film” Liston said.
“We have to look at ourselves and look at each other and move forward.”