GREENSBORO, N.C. – The second-seeded Duke Blue Devils exerted their physical and offensive muscle to defeat the seventh-seeded Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 82-52 in quarter-final play in the 2014 ACC Women’s Basketball Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum on Friday.
Four of five Blue Devils starters finished with double-digit point totals led by forward Haley Peters’ double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Elizabeth Williams (15 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists), Tricia Liston (15 points, 2 assists), and Richa Jackson (14 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) helped to shoulder the majority of the offensive load for Duke.
Looking to focus their press to wear Duke (26-5, 12-4) down like they did to beat the Virginia Cavaliers, the Yellow Jackets (20-11, 9-7) defense swarmed the Blue Devils early.
Guards Tyaunna Marshall and Kaela Davis led Georgia Tech’s offense with 17 and 16 points apiece, but didn’t get any further support to get the upper hand on the Blue Devils.
“Obviously we found out today exactly why Duke is one of the top ten teams in the country,” Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph said.
“I really felt like their seniors stepped up and played extremely tough, especially on the boards and just ripping balls out of our hands. I think we kind of got on our heels. We hit a wall and we never really recovered.”
Duke took a quick 5-2 lead with opening baskets from Jackson and a three-pointer from Liston that represented a quick jab and swing to indicate that the Blue Devils were ready to go toe-to-toe with the Yellow Jackets.
Georgia Tech obliged and the battle in the paint ensued throughout the half as both teams traded baskets, rebounds, and fouls.
The Yellow Jackets rallied quickly and gained their largest margin, five points, and led 13-8 with 15:17 to play.
As both teams continued to trade the advantage back and forth, tying on six different occasions, it was the Blue Devils defense that eventually presented the kryptonite to the Yellow Jackets’ strength and power – a zone defense.
Playing with sound defensive positioning and grit in fighting for free balls, Duke outrebounded Georgia Tech 49-36 and converted with precision 53-percent shooting to put points on the board.
With the score tied 24-24 with 5:07 to play in the opening half, Liston faked a three-point attempt, dribbled right and drove past a flying Dawn Maye (2 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists) and scored to put Duke ahead once again.
It was a lead that the Blue Devils would never relinquish for the remainder of the game.
As Duke’s defensive play intensified with Williams, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, swatting five Georgia Tech shot attempts away herself, reserve towers Oderah Chidom (8 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks), Kendall McCravey-Cooper (2 rebounds, 3 blocks), and Amber Henson (3 points, 2 rebounds, 2 blocks) all helped to shroud the Yellow Jackets offense.
“Blocked shots are intimidating, honestly, and I think everyone contributed to that,” Williams said.
“Just having our hands up and being active, I think we also had deflections, not even just blocks.”
The Blue Devils’ blocking display set a single-game Tournament record (13), while also earning recognition for allowing the event’s second-lowest shooting percentage by containing Georgia Tech to convert no better than 24-percent shooting (17-71) from the field.
As time on the clock counted down to end the first 20 minutes of play, Ka’lia Johnson (7 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists) stepped up to drop a long three-point bomb just before the horn sounded to give Duke a 35-26 lead at halftime.
“I think that momentum going to the halftime was great, and we just built off of that,” Johnson said.
“Coming out it was great. We played great defense, great offense. It started from that, built off of that.”
Even with the Blue Devils holding to a modest nine-point lead, it was expected that Georgia Tech would improve its shooting.
However, that didn’t happen, and instead it was Duke’s work from the field that improved as it pushed the lead up to 50-30 with 15:09 to play.
The Yellow Jackets tried and tried, but as they scored during the half, the Blue Devils countered to keep the lead hovering around the 20-point mark until the final eight minutes of play.
By that point, Georgia Tech couldn’t offer up anything more than fighting for respect and scrapping until the final horn while suffering its sixth straight all-time ACC Tournament loss to the defending-champion Blue Devils.
“This team is very, very excited about this new season, and they’re very confident,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“We’ve got a lot of great talent, and I think everybody understands that everyone’s got to play their role. That we’ve all got to be present minded. And I think the leadership, whether seniors or younger, everybody is playing their part and having fun, but knowing when to focus, and I think that’s a big key to this time of year.”
With the win, Duke advanced to the semifinals to face Triangle-area rival and No. 6 seed, the North Carolina Tar Heels, on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.