DURHAM, N.C. – The second-ranked Duke Blue Devils women’s basketball team showed a range of emotion in putting together an 88-69 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Thursday.
Visually exhibiting both confusion and frustration in foul calls made against them during the first half of play, the undefeated Blue Devils (4-0) also dealt with a scare later in the period when forward Haley Peters went down with a knee injury.
Guard Tricia Liston (18 points, 4 rebounds) led all Duke scorers for the third consecutive game by knocking down and matching a career-high six three-pointers – five of which she scored in the second half – to outpace the tenacious Commodores.
“We got to our game in the second half,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said afterwards.
“The first half we weren’t quite in our game, but that happens. This team played a different defense than we’ve faced all year, and they did a good job with it.”
It was Vanderbilt who scored on its first two possessions, leading 4-0 before the Blue Devils went on a quick 7-0 run led by Elizabeth Williams (13 points, 5 rebounds) and Liston dropping layups and a three, while guards Alexis Jones (17 points, 5 assists 3 steals) and Chelsea Gray (14 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds) initiated each scoring drive.
The Commodores continued to keep pace as their leading scorers, Jasmine Lister (23 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds) and Christina Foggie (18 points, 4 assists), started to convert baskets while Duke’s Haley Peters (11 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals) added to Williams’ efforts in the paint.
As Duke led 34-27 with 3:27 to play, Peters went airborne in an attempt to block a three-point shot from Vanderbilt’s Rebekah Dahlman, and landed awkwardly by the padded courtside table writhing in pain and clutching her right knee.
Considered as one of the Blue Devils’ toughest players, Peters did not get up quickly which had McCallie and the team’s athletic trainer heading across the floor showing visible concern.
Eventually getting up with help from her coach, Peters proceeded with the team’s training and medical staff to the locker room for evaluation.
“That was hard for us,” McCallie said of Peters’ injury.
“That messed us up a little bit. Injuries are a part of the game and you have to go with it, but that was a little too close to home.”
While Dahlman only made one of her three awarded free throws, the Commodores’ defensive play coupled with various Duke turnovers and missed shots allowed them to pull within two points, trailing the Blue Devils 36-34 at halftime.
“I would say we were being very complacent with taking outside shots, and we weren’t working the ball inside out, working the ball and feeding off each other, or assisting very well in the first half at all,” Gray said of her team’s first half play.
“We weren’t really in a rhythm, and when you’re not in a rhythm, things just aren’t going to go.”
Outrebounded 18-16 in the first half, Duke battled through Vanderbilt’s double coverage inside, tightened up its rebounding game, passed effectively in transition and scored more consistently to shoot a season-high 63 percent from the field during the second half.
Following a half in which they were whistled for 13 fouls, the Blue Devils settled down and harnessed their emotions to focus on outdistancing themselves from the Commodores.
“Well, I don’t think we had the first half that we wanted to,” Liston said.
“So I think that added to the second half that we had, but we were playing with emotion because the way play was going in general. I think we should’ve been playing better, and that’s where our frustration was coming to. And then the fouls – I think it all added up. I think it all added up. I think we did a good job of staying in ourselves and staying focused on what we needed to do, and not letting emotions get too high, too low, and affect us. But there was definitely some motivation in certain calls where you just want to get it back on the other end and use it to go again.”
With Peters absent from the Duke sideline for the early part of the second half, her eventual return to the bench prompted an eruption of applause from the 3,938 in attendance.
With her right knee heavily wrapped and with a large ice bag on it under a towel, Peters watched as the Blue Devils and Commodores battled from end to end as the lead fluctuated between four to seven points in Duke’s favor for the first five minutes of play.
Guard Chloe Wells (11 points, 2 assists) helped to keep Duke’s margin intact as she scored a layup and a three-pointer with back-to-back possessions during that time.
Being the gritty forward that she’s been throughout her career at Duke, Peters soon made her return to the floor with 14:11 to play and with the Blue Devils holding on to a slim 53-49 lead.
It then took her only 38 seconds to hit a jumper that for all intents and purposes powered Duke to pick up its pace and literally run past the Commodores for the remainder of the game.
“Who does that?” McCallie said of Peters’ basket in the second half.
“She hit a shot. Who does that? I was amazed by that, really…I wanted her back in the game. We needed her and she wanted to play, but then after she had played a little bit, you know, my brain’s like, okay, let’s just let her sit down.”
While Lister tried to keep Vanderbilt close, the emotional ebb following Peters’ shot fueled the sum of all of Duke’s parts to finally come together.
The Blue Devils went on an 11-0 run that saw their lead rise from 15, to 18, and eventually to a game-high of 23 points with 1:45 remaining to play.
From Vanderbilt’s perspective, Duke’s scoring surge was something that head coach Melanie Balcomb’s team got caught up in and had to eventually ride out until the final buzzer sounded.
“I felt like we hit the panic button, and instead of executing and getting the ball inside and out, like we had been doing, and getting the ball side to side and getting ball reversals, we took quick shots to try to stay with them. When we did that, those long rebounds are really like turnovers – they lead to transition down at the other end. You know, they’re quick. Long shots, quick shots, and they just go.”