Tipping off against one another for 75th time, both Triangle-area rival teams waged their battle for second place in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) with the Blue Devils keeping sole possession of it when it was all said and done.
Guard Tricia Liston led Duke’s offense with 24 points and seven rebounds, and dropped 4-of-7 from beyond the arc , while forward Haley Peters finished with a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) and tallied an important three-pointer, her only one of the game, to keep the Wolfpack at a distance with 1:59 play.
Elizabeth Williams (9 points, 10 rebounds) led the Blue Devils’ defensive play and finished with a game-high four blocks, while Richa Jackson’s perfect 5-for-5 free throw shooting helped ice the game late with the help of point guard Alexis Jones (12 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists), who found her down low to earn her shots at the line.
The Blue Devils (24-3, 11-2) improved their record against ranked opponents (7-3), but in playing against their third in the past seven days, it was a game that almost slipped away from them.
Leading 40-27 at halftime, Duke took advantage of numerous N.C. State turnovers to post valuable points in the paint, shooting 48 percent from the field while defensively holding the Wolfpack to only 28 percent.
Senior forward Kody Burke answered back for N.C. State (22-5, 9-4), leading all scorers with a game-high 30 points, including six three-pointers, and helped chip away at Duke’s lead that had ballooned to as many as 24 points, 59-35, with 14:32 to play.
“That was a great game,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“Exactly what we need. We need a lot more of those games – the idea of playing a very quality opponent. The idea of a hot shooter again that we lost and didn’t find and the idea of making incredible plays on our end.”
After losing a week earlier to then 17th-ranked North Carolina as the result of a dominating 30-point performance from ACC Player of the Week Diamond DeShields, Duke expected Burke and the conference’s most accurate shooter, Markeisha Gatling (16 points, 8 rebounds), to give them a challenge – and they did.
“That’s the reason we had a chance,” NC State coach Wes Moore said of Burke’s 17-point performance in the second half.
“She got us back in the game and gave us some momentum and our kids fed off of that.”
However, as both Burke and Gatling led the Wolfpack’s resurgence in the second half, it was Liston and Jones, the Blue Devils’ traditionally best performers against their opponents from Raleigh, who helped keep the lead intact.
Each helped to find Peters and Jackson open to score baskets that eventually pushed Duke’s margin of victory back up to 13 points.
“I think we just refocused when it got to the point where they caught back up,” Liston said.
“We started getting shots on the defensive end and then we started locating their shooters. Then we were executing on offense and kind of slowing down the pace and working the ball around, and looking for a good shot instead of maybe rushing some things.”