by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke faces its toughest challenge so far this women's basketball season tonight as part of an aptly-named event.
The No. 11 Blue Devils (5-1) are hosting No. 3 Ohio State (8-0) on the second night of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, an event in which the ACC won two of the three games the night before with the road team winning all three.
This is effectively the No. 1 seed game, as Ohio State has won the last five Big Ten regular-season championships.
And there are about 300 very active Buckeye fans in the house, on a night when Duke is hoping to draw 6,000 for its first really big home game of the campaign and first meeting with OSU. Duke has won 17 straight home games.
The Blue Devil mascot's headband says "The Buck Stops Here," and that's exactly what's about to happen as Duke gets the surprisingly easy 83-67 upset and the ACC wins the Challenge for the third time in as many tries.
Duke is in control for almost the whole way. The Blue Devils use both 6-4 junior Krystal Thomas and 6-5 freshman Allison Vernerey against the Buckeyes' super center Jantel Lavender, and they frustrate her early.
Vernerey, who comes off the bench when senior Joy Cheek goes down with an ankle injury at 15:08 of the first (Cheek does return for a stretch in the second half), scores six straight Duke points to make it 14-11 eight minutes into the game.
The Blue Devils, who end up getting very solid contributions from seven players, lead 31-27 at the break. Ohio State leads for less than a minute early in the second half, going up 41-37 on a 3-pointer from Sarah Schulze with 16:59 left.
But that's the high water mark for the Buckeyes. Jasmine Thomas first hits a 3-pointer and then an old-fashioned three-point play to put Duke up 43-41, and the Blue Devils are definitely in the driver's seat the rest of the way.
The Blue Devils' biggest lead is 18 points, at 80-62 on a pair of Jasmine Thomas free throws with 2:17 left.
Jasmine Thomas plays one of the best games of her career, pouring in a career-high 29 points including a trio of three-point plays. Vernerey adds season highs of 13 points and eight rebounds, Karima Christmas a season-high 10 points and Krystal Thomas a career-high tying 13 rebounds with her six points.
Lavender finishes with 20 points and an arena-record 18 rebounds for Ohio State, followed by Tayler Hill with 13 points, Schulze and Brittany Johnson with 11 each and point guard Samantha Prahalis - who fouls out with 2:17 to go - chips in 10 points and eight rebounds.
So how does Ohio State get a game like that out of Lavender with five players in double figures and still lose?
Duke outshoots the Buckeyes 50 percent to 36.8, although the Buckeyes hit 10 of 24 3-pointers and outrebound the Blue Devils 40-36. OSU commits 21 turnovers to Duke's season-low 11.
Duke gets 28 bench points to 2 for the visitors. The Blue Devils win the points in the paint by a ridiculous 46-10, off turnovers 27-9 and fast break 18-6.
They said it ...
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: "I'm so pleased to see our defense and rebounding - and you know a coach is going to talk about such things, but to hold a team that's averaging 89 points to 67 and to get them to shoot 37 percent from the floor, that's just a very big thing. These are habits that we are excited to keep building on. ... I was very pleased to see Krystal and Allison do so well with rebounding and be so aggressive. And for (Jasmine), I just loved how she handled the different changes of tempo of the game. There were times that we attacked and it was great, and there were times that we pulled the ball out and we were patient."
OSU coach Jim Foster: "I think there was a difference in physicality. We didn't react well to their physical play. I think their bench really helped them and lifted them, and we didn't get any productivity out of ours. ... (Jasmine Thomas) is a veteran player that just kept plugging away, kept moving without the ball. When she had the ball, her quickness obviously got her to places. We should have made her take some tougher shots."
Jasmine Thomas: "In the second half, I decided to attack the basket more (scoring 24 in the 20 minutes.) I didn't really get anything inside in the first half, so that was just a change in my mentality. ... I would say I was in a little bit of a zone."
Vernerey: "(The crowd) was great. It was kind of crazy and stressful at the beginning but I really liked it. That's the kind of game I came here for. You don't come for easy games. There was so much energy, and it was great to be a part of that."
What does it all mean?
That Duke, which played one stinker of a game in its second outing of the season at Texas A&M, is probably underrated at No. 11. And that Ohio State needs to play a lot better on the road.
Stars of the game
1. J. Thomas.
Play of the game
Keturah Jackson's steal and layup with 16:06 to go to put Duke up 45-41.
Duke leads 1-0.
Duke: Won 5.
OSU: Lost 1.
Duke vs. Southern California, Sunday, 2 p.m.
Ohio State vs. Wisconsin, Sunday, 2 p.m.