By Peter Koutroumpis
DURHAM, N.C. – It wasn’t an impressive start to a game between two NCAA top-25 teams.
However, by the end, it turned out to be the type of match-up all 5,724 in attendance at Cameron Indoor Stadium expected – one with nine lead changes and lots of transition play.
When it was over, the 19th-ranked Duke Blue Devils (18-6, 7-4) dropped a 72-54 decision to the 5th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (22-2, 10-1).
Sixteen points from Lexie Brown, 12 points from Rebecca Greenwell, and 11 from Leaonna Odom weren’t enough for Duke to overtake Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish countered with 18 points from Marina Mabrey, 17 from Jackie Young, along with 12 points from both Arike Ogunbowale and Jessica Shepard.
The final result ended Duke’s 30-game win streak at home and came about due to the Blue Devils’ lack of scoring depth, particularly with Haley Gorecki playing only nine minutes due to a recent left hip injury.
Notre Dame’s shooting accuracy, 50-percent completion on only 50 shots attempted, from only six players was exceptional, and resulted in 22 points off 17 Duke turnovers and a 28-22 edge in post point production.
It was a slow start though as the first three minutes highlighted Duke missing five shots from the field and Notre Dame missing four.
The score was only 5-5 at the 5:05 mark, but both sides soon picked up the scoring pace.
Ogunbowale, Mabrey, and Young all played the game’s full 40 minutes, and still managed to play aggressively enough on defense to double and triple Brown and Greenwell effectively when necessary.
“I think we’re in tremendous shape,” Fighting Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said.
“I think we’ve been playing six [players] and they know they’re going to be in the game. I think they have moments where they are resting, especially on defense. We just need to buy them a few minutes here and there. They want to play, and I think they can figure it out. They are working really hard in practice and I think they are in great shape.”
Trailing 33-29 at the break, Brown started the third quarter aggressively after posting only two points in the opening half for the Blue Devils.
A 7-3 run, with six coming from her, pulled the teams even at 36 apiece.
It was a one-point game, 42-41, in Notre Dame’s favor with 4:15 remaining in the period.
Duke then more or less began to throw the game away as turnovers and steals by the Irish resulted in a 12-5 run.
Notre Dame led 54-46 heading into the final period.
The Blue Devils went scoreless for the first four minutes while the Fighting Irish converted 7-of-15 from the field.
“We are going to have to work on when defenses put so much attention to Becca and Lexie, and people stepping up more and taking advantage of that,” Blue Devils head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“I think at times, Naye [Odom] did some really nice things in stepping up, but we’re going to need others to do that as well and get a little bit more of a balanced attack.”
Notre Dame outscored Duke 18-8 for the final 10 minutes with only Brown and Odom contributing points.
Not enough to come close to pulling back even as the Blue Devils had done earlier.
“I think we just folded,” Brown said.
“We’ve done this before. We get down, we come back, and then we fold. I don’t know what it is we need to do get over the hump. They were super-aggressive defensively, like Coach P said on Rebecca and I, and I think we just needed people to step up and be more confident. I’ll take the blame for that for maybe not giving enough confidence in my team.”
Peter Koutroumpis, 401-323-8960, @pksport