DURHAM, N.C. – Alexis Jones was the offensive catalyst while Haley Peters was the defensive rebounding leader in a 99-78 win as the second-ranked Duke Blue Devils beat their toughest opponent to date, the 16th-ranked Purdue Boilermakers, at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Thursday.
Jones’ season-high 22 points led all scorers as Duke’s starters all finished with double-digit scoring totals – Chelsea Gray (16 points, 9 assists, 5 rebounds), Peters (14 points, 9 rebounds), Elizabeth Williams (14 points, 6 rebounds), Tricia Liston (13 points, 6 rebounds), and Richa Jackson (11 points, 2 rebounds) who came off the bench, all poured it on to overtake a tenacious Purdue squad.
The Blue Devils’ 21-point margin of victory over their opponent, as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, was deceiving to anyone who watched the first 10 minutes of play that showcased the offensive talent of Boilermakers guard KK Houser.
Trailing Duke after the first four minutes of play, Houser single-handedly propelled Purdue to take the lead and extended it to nine points, leading 26-17 with 11:07 to play in the opening half.
It was the largest deficit that Duke had faced in a game this season and the Blue Devils struggled to make defensive stops while Purdue took advantage of its “aggressiveness and disruptive” play to force turnovers throughout the half as Gray described it.
“We just needed to calm down and go with the flow and run our offense,” Gray said.
“We finally said enough is enough and started to play our game.”
Gray and Jones helped to spark the Blue Devils resurgence late in the half as Jones scored two straight baskets on a defensive rebound and a turnover that brought Duke to within four points
A minute later, after Gray cut the deficit to two points, Jones tied it 29-29 with 7:50 to play.
Both teams continued to trade the lead back and forth until the Boilermakers took advantage of a few missed Duke field goals and turnover that allowed them to carry a 44-41 lead into halftime.
Purdue’s point total and 48-percent shooting percentage was the largest allowed during a half by the Blue Devils all season.
“We weren’t playing good transition defense,” Peters said.
“We weren’t focused on number 22 (Houser). I mean, she killed us. We just weren’t intense. It was one-on-one stops and shutting people down and we didn’t do a good job of it.”
Coming out for the second half, the Blue Devils made the adjustments they needed to, and only needed the first five minutes of play to take full control of the game until the final buzzer sounded.
“I thought from a team perspective, the second half was more of what we were looking for defensively, rebounding-wise and also scoring-wise and attacking,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
When asked what was different about her team’s play that shut down the Boilermaker’s offense and held them to 28-percent shooting for the rest of the game, McCallie said, “the team, the mindset.”
“We were really trying to make stops. We were just playing in the first half – it was like a playground game. And that’s fine in the Summer, but that’s not fine if you’re trying to be a special team and that’s what it was, a playground game.”
During the final 15 minutes of play, Duke outrebounded Purdue 27-14 while Jones, Peters, and Liston combined to score 35 points to push the Blue Devils’ offense to eventually complete a 32-point swing, and lead 99-76 with 23 seconds remaining to play.
Peters, who got back into action and nearly finished with a double-double, scored 12 points in the second half, and was a refreshing sight to see for the 3,758 in attendance.
”I was a little tentative at first, but once I got warmed up it felt good,” Peters said after scoring only two points in the first half.
Having hyperextended her knee while attempting to block a shot against Vanderbilt, Peters sat out four games before returning to help her team extend its undefeated record to 9-0.
Never needing to wear a brace before, Peters took time to get used to wearing it, but it didn’t seem to affect her play as the team’s self-professed vocal leader on defense made an impact in the game.
“Today was the best I’ve felt since I’ve been back in practice. It might have been a couple of minutes, but once it was warm – and it was hot in there today – I felt good. It was weird at first, but I didn’t really notice it tonight.”
McCallie was pleased to see Peters finish strong in her first game back since suffering the injury.
“Just great to have her back,” she said.
“I do think she took a little time, but she got back to her feisty self. It was nice to see.”