DURHAM, N.C. – Senior forward Haley Peters described the seventh-ranked Duke Blue Devils’ 71-56 victory over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Thursday as being part of a new season.
Peters and fellow graduating seniors Tricia Liston and Richa Jackson along with the sideline leadership and support of Chelsea Gray ensured that they would leave quite a legacy on the floor within the confines of the hallowed basketball arena.
Even while they ended the regular season at Cameron with an overall 58-4 record during their tenure at Duke, they didn’t see it as the last time that they would play there as opening-round games will take place on their home court during the upcoming 2014 NCAA Tournament that will begin in late March.
“It’s a special day, but we know we have other games in Cameron, so I feel we were just more focused on the game,” Liston said.
“After the game is really when we can enjoy it, spend time with family, and have a great day.”
All four seniors were honored before the game for their contributions wearing a Blue Devils uniform that included earning three Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) regular season titles, two ACC Tournament Championships, and three Elite Eight appearances while compiling an overall record of 116-17 entering the game against Wake Forest.
Playing without guards Gray and Alexis Jones, both out with season-ending knee injuries, Duke took to the floor with a revamped and longer lineup,
”They’re a very good basketball team that’s faced a lot of adversity, and every time they face it, they’ve got to pull together,” Wake Forest coach Jen Hoover said.
“It’s obvious some seniors did that today, particularly Haley Peters.”
Peters finished with a game and season-high 22 points along with eight rebounds while establishing career highs in free throw attempts and completions, ending up 7 of 8 from the line.
Jackson and Liston scored 15 and 10 points respectively and Elizabeth Williams added 10 of her own to complete the quartet of starters finishing in double digits.
When asked about what message the three seniors’ contributions made in completing the 15-point win, Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said, “I think it says a tremendous amount.”
“They’ve all grown. They’re all just getting better every day and seeing the things that they can do. Their games are stepping up to a level that will help them in the future.”
The victory, powered by a 56-percent shooting performance, secured the Blue Devils’ No. 2 seeding for the upcoming ACC Tournament that will take place in Greensboro next week.
Duke’s play particularly highlighted a defensive dominance over the Demon Deacons that included 40 total rebounds, 10 blocks and seven steals.
Jackson, who posted three of the team’s 11 team assists, wasn’t any worse for the wear in playing a total of 37 minutes while helping to control the ball at the point.
“I just took advantage of the opportunities that were given to me,” she said.
“I just try to keep working hard and stay positive. I know Coach P always believed in me, so I knew eventually I would have a chance to step up. With Chelsea and Alexis being out, it was very hard for us to go through, but we grew as a team.”
Leading 33-28 at the half, Duke never relinquished the lead for the remainder of game, even when Wake Forest pulled to within three points, trailing 40-37, with 14:26 to play.
A critical scoring contribution courtesy of Ka’lia Johnson, a layup and free throw that combined with a Williams layup, put the Blue Devils back up by eight quickly afterwards.
“I think throughout the game we were finding out more about who we are now,” Peters said.
“By the end of it, we played to a little bit of how good we could be…We know that there’s so much more there for us to do.”
Even the Demon Deacons’ inside-outside threats of Dearica Hamby (20 points, nine rebounds) and Chelsea Douglas (19 points, 2 rebounds) who worked to keep the score close couldn’t do more.
Finishing with 42 points in the paint, Duke utilized more size at both ends of the floor as freshman forward Oderah Chidom posted nine points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks in 27 minutes while playing a critical role in shutting Wake Forest’s shooters down.
“I really liked the energy more in the second half,” McCallie said.
“I thought the team just really picked it up, made some great hustle plays. I could think of several of those hustle plays and I think it really set the tone for the entire half. It was a good, strong defensive game for us overall.”