A second straight dominant performance by junior forward Brianna Turner (25 points, 12 rebounds) and strong team defensive intensity, especially in the second half, propelled No. 8 Notre Dame to a hard fought and well earned 62-58 victory versus No. 14 Duke on Thursday night at the Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame improved to 19-3 overall and reached the halfway point of the ACC schedule tied for first with a 7-1 ledger. Duke dropped to 17-4 overall and 5-3 in the league, but displayed the talent that enabled them to hand No. 3 South Carolina its lone defeat this season.
The Blue Devils jumped to a 15-6 lead in the opening minutes and never trailed in the first half, taking a 24-17 advantage at the end of the first quarter while converting 10-of-18 from the field, including 3-of-5 from three-point range.
The Irish tied it at 31 on a lay-in by freshman Jackie Young off the fast break. A flagrant foul by Duke’s Faith Suggs on Turner with 20 seconds left in the first half allowed the junior to finish the half with two free throws and a 7-of-8 effort from the charity stripe that would prove crucial in the outcome. She entered the contest shooting only 58.6 from the foul line (51-of-87), but the last two knotted the game at 35 apiece at the intermission.
“I’ve been shooting with more confidence,” said Turner, who also made both of her free throws at North Carolina on Sunday. “I think before, I was over-thinking it.”
“We were flat-footed in the first quarter,” said Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw. “To get back to even at halftime was huge.”
After Duke’s 24-point first quarter effort, the Blue Devils were limited to 11, 11 and 12 points the next three while converting 12-of-39 (30.8 percent) field-goal attempts. Duke committed only four turnovers in the first half but had 11 in the second half.
“That was the difference,” said Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie of the turnovers. “I felt we went very, very fast in the second half.”
Notre Dame took its initial lead at 40-39 on a short jumper by freshman Erin Boley, and a critical momentum swing occurred in the final 52 seconds of the third quarter when the Irish finished with a 6-0 run on a put-back by Turner, a jumper by Marina Mabrey (nine points, five rebounds, two steals) and another hustle play for a basket by Turner to make it 50-46 at the end of three quarters.
A dagger of sorts came when junior forward Kathryn Westbeld, sidelined the two previous games with a right ankle injury, pulled down two offensive rebounds on the same possession just as the shot clock was expiring both times, and then followed with a basket for a 60-51 cushion.
The Irish appeared to have the game locked up at 62-51 with 2:21 remaining, but then committed turnovers on three straight possessions that allowed Duke to score the final seven points. The Blue Devils missed two threes in the last 26 seconds that could have made the situation even more tenuous.
“Huge win, a lot of positives to take from it,” summarized a relieved McGraw.
Notre Dame on Sunday hosts Virginia, which crushed No. 19 Virginia Tech 76-27 on Thursday.
1.The Leaders — When the combination of Turner and point guard Lindsay Allen play this way on both ends of the floor, Notre Dame has the base to return to the Final Four. Turner posted her sixth double-double of the year and worked effectively in the high post while making well-timed and quick cuts to the basket throughout the game against the zone.
Allen’s box score shows 1-of-5 shooting, but her 12 assists and only two turnovers in the full 40 minutes continue to make her the engine that makes the Irish flow. Starting late in the third quarter, she also was assigned to Duke star guard Lexie Brown (22 points), who was 1-of-5 from the floor in the final 10 minutes while being face-guarded mainly by Allen. McGraw didn’t want to start Allen on Brown in the first half for fear of foul trouble, but the plan was to put her on Brown at crunch time if the foul situation was palatable.
“A great player,” said McCallie of Allen. “Such great physical condition.”
2. Injury Update — Westbeld (six points seven rebounds, two steals in 26 minutes) has been barely able to practice the past week and had some off moments while trying to return to a rhythm, but her play was instrumental in the fourth quarter.
"A Herculean effort," McGraw said about Westbeld's effort. "She played through a lot of pain. I'm sure we won't practice her for the next couple of days. Hopefully she'll be able to play Sunday.”
Junior guard Mychal Johnson was not available after reportedly having her shoulder popped back in from a dislocation.
“Ice, lots of ice,” recommended Turner, who knows plenty about dealing with shoulder problems and underwent surgery last spring.
3. Streak Continues — This was Notre Dame’s 11th consecutive victory over the Blue Devils and eighth straight since joining the ACC in 2013, an especially amazing feat considering Duke has been perennially ranked and previously the dominant squad in the league. Because of the tremendous Irish success the past seven years, it’s easy to overlook or take for granted such consistent excellence.
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