Blue Devils overrun by Tar Heels in 89-78 loss

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Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network
Peter Koutroumpis, Triangle Sports Network

DURHAM, N.C. – The third-ranked Duke Blue Devils fell behind and could never catch up to the 17th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in suffering an 89-78 loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday.

Duke lost back-to back games at home for the first time since the 1994-94 season as they allowed a season-high 45 points in the first half to the Tar Heels who were led by Diamond DeShields’ game and career-high 30-point performance.

Along with DeShields, fellow freshman Allisha Gray (24 points, 10 rebounds) and forward Xylina McDaniel (17 points, 5 rebounds), who was 7-of-10 from the field including a perfect 3-of-3  from beyond the arc, helped put together the offensive performance that kept the Blue Devils defense reaching after all game.

Elizabeth Williams scored a career-high 28 points, seven rebounds, five blocks and two steals to lead the Blue Devils in the losing effort, while Tricia Liston (20 points, 3 rebounds) and Alexis Jones (15 points, 11 assists, 5 rebounds) worked to stay close to the Tar Heels.

However, it was DeShields who played anything like the rookie she is as she finished the game 12-of-20 from the field, and knocked down five three pointers in her first game playing in the famed basketball arena.

“Cameron is just historically a tough place to play in,” she said.

“I didn’t expect it any less tonight, but what I was surprised at was the fact that I didn’t really care. It didn’t bother me one bit. I’m proud of myself for having that mental toughness and it didn’t seem to bother the rest of the team either. I’m just really proud of our mental toughness tonight.”

As Gray, McDaniel and DeShields put North Carolina ahead 12-4 during the first three minutes of play, Williams fought back to help lead Duke to narrow its deficit to four points, trailing 14-10 with 16:30 to play in the opening half.

The Blue Devils took advantage of a few UNC turnovers and misses to pull within two as Richa Jackson (9 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds) put a layup in, but North Carolina guard Jessica Washington connected on her lone three-pointer of the game and the Tar Heels led 19-14 three minutes later.

It was that kind of back-and-forth game throughout the first 10 minutes of play until DeShields began to unleash her three-point shooting that helped North Carolina extend its lead to as many as 12 points, leading 39-27 with five minutes left in the half.

Duke’s 42-percent shooting performance couldn’t keep pace with North Carolina’s 52-percent conversion rate from the field, and it was mainly due to their inability to finish easy layup and putback opportunities.

To end the half, Duke energized the crowd of 8,210 in attendance as Liston hit her first three of the game and Williams swatted a layup attempt by Latifah Coleman (9 points, 6 assists) into the stands, and kept the North Carolina lead at 45-36 heading into the break.

“It was a great basketball game; a lot of offense,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.

“A great one for the crowd relative to offense and excitement that way, but for us, giving up 89 points at home is very bad.”

To start the half, McDaniel extended the North Carolina lead with a three within the first 25 seconds of play.

Liston answered back with her second straight three-pointer of the game and the Blue Devils began to make another run, scoring 11 unanswered points to trim the Tar Heels lead to one, trailing 48-47 with 17 minutes to play.

However, just as DeShields went cold on two consecutive three-point attempts that allowed Duke to climb back into the game, she regained her hot hand and along with Gray began to widen the gap once again.

After DeShields pushed North Carolina’s lead to 61-51 with 11:06 remaining, the Blue Devils put together a 9-2 push that pulled them within two points just three minutes later.

“I feel like we had a lot of times where we were down by three, or five, or one,” Liston said.

“Then we gave up a three, or an and-1, or an easy bucket on the other side and it stretched it right back out. Every time we got close, we weren’t getting the stops to tie or go ahead.”

With 8:13 on the clock and the Tar Heels leading 63-61, Duke missed shot attempts and turned the ball over too many times and allowed DeShields and Gray to rebuild a sizable lead that ballooned to as many as 13 points with a minute remaining to play.

Even while the Blue Devils continued to put up points on the board from Liston and Williams, as a team, their inability to maintain ball possession and gather rebounds on missed shot attempts while not making stops at the other end allowed North Carolina to put the finishing touches on the upset road victory.

“You can mix up defenses,” McCallie said.

“You can change things. You saw us get right back in the game after halftime. We had few changes of defenses there. And then I feel like we were in a position to do quite well from that standpoint, but then there were some transition breakaways, so suddenly instead of being down five, you’re down eight or nine. You can look at that critical part of the second half and understand that. Our team’s got to want to play defense. If we don’t, this will happen again.”