by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke hits its home court on a nasty December evening, getting a bit more of a challenge than was apparent when the schedule was released.
Tonight's opponent is James Madison, which comes in ranked No. 24 with a 7-0 record and two wins over ACC teams.
The No. 7 Blue Devils are looking to bounce back from a tough go at No. 2 Stanford three nights earlier.
JMU has one bona fide superstar in guard Dawn Evans, who comes in averaging 26.5 points per game including a 38-point performance in a two-point road victory over Virginia. Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie compares her to former Maryland guard Kristi Toliver, who not only ran a national championship team but could create her own long 3-pointer and hit it.
Duke overcomes a big game from Evans as well as some poor free-throw shooting, holding on for a 79-65 victory.
Evans hits the court ready to make her point, as she hits about a 27-footer 90 seconds into the game to give the Dukes a 5-4 lead.
Duke takes the lead for good at 9-8 on a 3-pointer from Joy Cheek at the 16:55 mark. The Blue Devils are up 44-34 at halftime, stretching the lead to 70-47 on a steal and layup from Shay Selby with 8:40 to go.
Oddly, that's Duke's last field goal, and the Blue Devils' tough night at the free-throw line - they were 21-for-38 - keeps the score respectable and almost makes it scary for the home team. JMU cuts the margin to 12 twice in the last five minutes before the Blue Devils lock it up down the stretch.
Cheek leads the Blue Devils with a career-high 21 points as they win their 20th straight game at Cameron. Jasmine Thomas adds 13 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, while Keturah Jackson chips in 10 points and Krystal Thomas 10 rebounds to go with her eight points.
Evans, who had sat out JMU's previous game against Siena to have a biopsy on a kidney, pours in 31 points while Sarah Williams adds 16 and Tarik Hislop 10.
Duke shoots 40.6 percent to JMU's 34.8, wins the rebound battle 54-44 and forces 21 turnovers to 17 of its own.
They said it ...
McCallie: "It was a great game, a very interesting game given the dynamics out there. I thought our team played very hard and rebounded exceptionally well. It was very physical and I'm really proud of the attack. ... I think our team's hustle and our fight along with our full-court defense can make up for a lot. It would have been nice to get 10, 12, 14 more points off the free-throw line, but reality is sometimes that's the way the game breaks."
JMU coach Kenny Brooks: "Duke had too many weapons that played well on the same night. I don't know if they've had a complete game like that; they may have. They stepped up and they did a lot of different things. They hit shots that we were hoping they were going to miss. It seemed like when they did miss, they got the rebound."
Cheek: "I think just being aggressive (was important). I had not been shooting well the past couple of games, so I wanted to come out tonight and capitalize. I think I owe that to my team for passing me the ball. Defensively, I just didn't want whomever I was guarding to score."
Evans: "I try to read my defense and take what they give me. I try to work on my outside game as well as on my inside game, so I can be a versatile player and people can't play me a certain way. That makes me unpredictable, to be able to score from the inside and outside and not having to rely on either."
What does it all mean?
That Duke is deep enough to beat a good team with one great player. And that JMU seems bound for an NCAA Tournament spot if Evans stays healthy.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Selby's steal and layup to give Duke its biggest lead and its last field goal.
Duke leads 4-1.
Duke: Won 1.
JMU: Lost 1.
Duke at Maine, Monday, 7 p.m.
JMU vs. Longwood, Monday, 7 p.m.