Mathias posts second consecutive career-high finish
By Peter Koutroumpis
DURHAM, N.C. – Shooting accuracy played into the 14th-ranked Duke Blue Devils’ favor when they posted an 85-54 win over the UNC Greensboro Spartans at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Thursday.
The Blue Devils’ 57-percent shooting led by a career-high 24 points on 12-of-18 shooting from senior forward Erin Mathias eclipsed the 31-percent output from the Spartans, led by 15 from Alexus Willey.
With guard Lexie Brown as the only other Blue Devil in double figures with 20, to go with a well-rounded nine assists, seven rebounds, and eight steals, the Duke offense focused on ball distribution and finished with 24 total assists and 10 turnovers.
“It’s important to get better in every game and I think we did” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
“Lexie’s game was fluid, focused and just really, really good in all categories. That was just great to watch and see, especially the assists, steals and those types of things. Creating everything on the floor. Then for Erin, it was great to see her attacking and shooting and stepping up to her spots as well, and playing her game as well. There was great leadership by Lexie and Erin, and I also thought that the team got better.”
A double-double for UNCG’s Ije Ajemba (13 points, 14 rebounds) at 50-percent shooting kept the Spartans competitive at times, but showed the one-dimensional identity of a young team.
Duke simply dominated in all areas, claiming 56 points in the paint, 30 from turnovers, and 26 on the break to go with 22 points off the bench.
“It was more about us, just our team and what we were trying to do and the pressure we were trying to put on the ball,” McCallie pointed out.
“We needed to work on some defenses. We went through quite a few and we tweak things as we did. Lexie, it was Jayda (Adams) one time, and Mikayla (Boykin), there was a lot of ball pressure and that’s the key. The players are doing that; we are just getting different structures for how we want them to attack.”
Duke led 44-29 on a season-high opening-half shooting performance.
Both Mathias and Brown led with 12 points apiece while Leonna Odom added eight to the Blue Devils total.
Four players – Willey, Nadine Soliman, Aneka Yelverton, and Te’ja Twitty – contributed five each for UNCG.
Dropping shots made the difference in Duke holding a significant lead after hitting a season-high 62.5 percent during the second quarter that averaged to a season-high opening-half shooting percentage of 61.8 percent.
Trailing 23-15 following the opening 10 minutes, the Spartans’ inconsistent shooting didn’t and couldn’t keep pace with the Blue Devils.
“Duke is a very good passing team, and they carved us up,” UNCG head coach Trina Patterson said.
“Our goal was to make sure we tried to eliminate the three-point game. I thought we did a fairly good job with that, but then they carved us up with 24 assists when we stretched out, making the extra passes. But for our players, we’re really happy with some of the things on the stat sheet.”
It wasn’t an explosive start by any means as Odom laid in four points that put Duke ahead 4-2.
A 2-2-1 press from the Spartans slowed the Duke offense compared to past games’ starts.
Once the Blue Devils established their spacing and found passing lanes inside, four points from Mathias extended the margin to 10-5 at the 6:03 mark.
Coming out of the official timeout, Duke’s long cross-court passes from the top and bottom corners spread the UNCG defense enough to open up spots to convert from.
Mathias continued to drop shots from the paint with help from Haley Gorecki who eventually finished with seven points and four rebounds.
Duke led 19-12 with 1:53 to go.
Lengthening the defense with the subbing-in of Bego Faz Davalos (who earned her first career start in the game) and Madison Treece for Duke, the Spartans managed to drop a three from the perimeter, but then recorded three consecutive misses from the field.
The Blue Devils carried a 23-15 lead at that point.
UNCG started quickly with two straight 3s from Soliman and Yelverton that cut the Duke lead to two before Mathias’ jumper in the lane posted Duke’s first points of the quarter.
Following Greenwell’s jumper from the left elbow, Odom, Brown and Davalos all added layups in succession as the Blue Devils established their first double-digit lead, 33-23, with 6:36 to play.
The Spartans didn’t relent and continued to put up points, but Duke did too.
A 3-2 zone countered some Duke possessions, but UNCG couldn’t capitalize offensively against the Blue Devils’ length.
Brown’s three-pointer from the top had the Blue Devils up 44-29 with 1:23 remaining.
Neither team converted anymore for the remainder of the half.
Duke’s defense dictated play early in the period as a number of steals resulted in easy baskets that resulted in the lead ballooning to 22 points 53-31 at the 5:14 mark.
A large 3-2 zone made it difficult for UNCG to move the ball around the perimeter, let alone attempt shots from the distance.
The Blue Devils then struggled to score for a nearly three-minute span, missing on seven straight attempts from the field before a steal and layup from Gorecki pushed the Duke lead to 57-33.
Mathias continued to be a force in the paint and popped up a running jumper off the glass as the lead was 26 with 1:32 remaining to cap off a 15-2 run over a six-minute span.
Following Gorecki’s first and only three of the game, countered by a UNCG basket, two free throws from Boykin ended the period with the Blue Devils ahead 64-37.
A 12-4 run with six coming from Mathias had Duke up 76-41 with 5:59 to go.
“I think our floor spacing today was a lot better, and I think Erin did a really good job finding her spots,” Brown said.
“She made the passing lanes way easy for me. Of course, people are really concerned about Becca so they were playing really wide out. The middle was wide open, and Erin did a really good job finding open spots.”
With intermittent success in scoring, finishing the game on a 10-5 run, the Spartans’ struggles against the Blue Devils zone couldn’t be overcome.
The Blue Devils led 80-49 with 1:36 to play and continued to use quick transition off missed UNCG shots to score as Boykins’ three finalized it for Duke.
Even while Willey dropped the final points of the game for the visitors, a three-pointer, the final ended 85-54 in the Blue Devils’ favor, holding the Spartans to their lowest output of the season to-date.
The bottom line
“I’ve just been working with my team pretty hard in the offseason,” Mathias said.
“We’re all here pretty early on working on our games and in the weight room. I’ve definitely come a long way in that aspect, as well as with my jumper. I’ve been working on it all the time. Those things have definitely helped me improve over the years.
“I prepare the same every game, so nothing really changes as far as that. Honestly, I just feed off the guards. They find me in those situations, so all credit goes to them. I think if we continue to move the ball like we did today, good things will come.”
Peter Koutroumpis, 401-323-8960, @pksport