No. 2 Duke runs over Albany in 80-51 win

DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke Blue Devils struggled early on, but overcame an early deficit to overwhelm the University at Albany Great Danes, on their way to an 80-51 victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Thursday.

Haley Peters (17 points , 4 rebounds), Chelsea Gray (12 points, 9 assists, 6 steals), Richa Jackson (12 points, 4 rebounds), and Elizabeth Williams (9 points, 4 rebounds) led the Blue Devils’ scoring that had to offset and overpower a game-high 24-point performance from Albany’s Shereesha Richards.

“I liked the poise and focus of our team,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said afterwards.

“The first half was a little slow. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t as good as it can be. I thought the second half was a lot better.”

Coming off their first loss of the season (83-61)  to the top-ranked Connecticut Huskies on Tuesday, Duke didn’t effectively defend Richards during the first nine minutes of play as she scored the Great Danes’ first 14 points of the game.

While Richards basically required all of Duke’s attention on defense, the Blue Devils’ offensive ball movement was slow and ill-timed and allowed the Great Danes to take advantage of numerous turnovers.

Cross court passes floated in the air like beach balls as the Blue Devils easily telegraphed them and allowed Albany to convert the steals into baskets successfully.

With 7:50 left in the opening half, the Great Danes had their biggest lead of the game, seven points, leading 20-13.

“We had to pick it up defensively,” Gray said.

“I don’t think we were thinking about past games. We just weren’t focused and defending as well as we should have.”

McCallie started to make quick substitutions taking her starters out and reinserting them in waves in order to assess what her team was not doing right.

Duke eventually put 12 players on the floor throughout the game and received effective and valuable minutes from all of them to eventually finish with a 59-percent shooting performance.

During the final 10 minutes of the first half, Duke started to find its pace and effectively passed the ball without turning it over while Albany tried to keep up and adjust accordingly.

With 4:57 to go, the Blue Devils finally tied the score 22-22 on Tricia Liston’s lone three-pointer of the game which energized the modest crowd in attendance.

Just 22 seconds later, Oderah Chidom (6 points, 2 rebounds) put Duke ahead from the free throw line, converting both attempts she received after being fouled while going to the basket.

From there, Duke never looked back and returned to playing like the No. 2 team in the country.

“The team picked it up,” McCallie said.

“They got focused and I thought got more aggressive. We got a few more steals. We created. I thought everybody off the bench was pretty key.”

The Blue Devils stopped turning the ball over and coupled with a 13-2 scoring run over a four-minute stretch took full control of the game.

Peters and Chidom did the work inside while Gray and Alexis Jones (4 points, 5 assists) patrolled the perimeter to distribute and drive the ball to the hoop as needed.

Richards’ and the Great Danes’ hands cooled and Duke was able to carry a 34-26 lead into the halftime break.

During the second half, the Blue Devils continued where they left off and put together a 15-2 run during the first four minutes of play.

Effective midcourt trapping affected Albany’s ability to move the ball and resulted in numerous turnovers which the Blue Devils converted into baskets to extend their lead to 49-28 with 15:59 to play.

“Obviously Duke adjusted and did a different press breaker,” Albany coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said.

“Then they started pressing, so I think they came at us with the same plan we had for them. Their press rattled us.”

After being held scoreless for three minutes, the Great Danes ended their scoring drought, but were unable to match Duke’s output for the rest of the game.

The Blue Devils continued to pour it on and extended their lead to as many as 35 points, leading 78-42 with 3:15  to play.

Throughout the half, it was the Blue Devils bench players – Chloe Wells (4 points, 3 rebounds), Kendall McCravey-Cooper (5 points), and Amber Henson (4 points, 3 rebounds) – who worked to secure the win.

As Khalia Johnson (5 rebounds) came off the bench to lead the team in rebounding, McCallie made a particular point of sitting guard Tricia Liston (5 points) who finished with an uncharacteristic blank on the score sheet in that category.

“If you’re not going to rebound, we’re going to move you,” McCallie said.

“I mean, there’s just no way. It’s too competitive. What happened a couple of nights ago, if we didn’t learn from that what we need to do better…She (Liston) is a great player. She didn’t have a great day and if she’s not going to rebound, that might happen. But that’s life. I mean that’s life in the fast lane.”