by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Nobody has been able to fault Duke’s early schedule, and tonight the Blue Devils will clearly get their toughest test so far.
The two meetings in Joanne P. McCallie’s tenure have both been painful double-digit losses, including a 95-77 waxing in College Station last season. But the teams have never met in Durham.
Duke will start its third point guard of the season tonight, as freshman Chelsea Gray will replace junior Shay Selby who replaced freshman Chloe Wells.
The Blue Devils get revenge as Jasmine Thomas scores 18 points including the last four in a 61-58 win.
This one is a war, with a crowd of 6,114 to watch.
There are 16 lead changes and eight ties on the night.
Duke gets off to a slow start, falling behind 22-12 on a 3-pointer from Maryann Baker at 9:02.
But the Blue Devils answer with 16 straight points as the Aggies miss 12 straight shots, going up 28-22 on Krystal Thomas’ follow at 2:16.
Duke leads 28-27 at the break after shooting 36.0 percent in the first half to the visitors’ 28.2, canning eight of 11 free throws to A&M’s 2-for-2.
The Aggies lead by five again in the second half, going up 38-33 with 15:25 to go on an Adaora Elonu jumper.
Duke never again leads by more than three.
A&M goes up for the last time at 58-57 on another Elonu jumper at 2:08.
Both defenses clamp down until the big bucket of the game, Jasmine Thomas’ contested jumper from the stripe with the shot clock expiring to put Duke up 59-58 with 55 seconds to go.
A&M gets two chances to go ahead, the last one when Danielle Adams misses a 12-footer with eight seconds to go and Jasmine Thomas rebounds.
Thomas hits two free throws at :06, and when Karima Christmas comes up with a steal in the closing ticks the Blue Devils have their 36th straight December win at home.
Jasmine Thomas leads all scorers with 18 points and hauls in nine rebounds, while Houston native Christmas scores 11 and grabs 11 boards for her second double-double of the season. Gray adds 11 points.
Elonu finishes with 15 points, followed by Sydney Carter with 13. Danielle Adams adds 11 with 12 rebounds, while Tyra White chips in 11 points.
Good defense makes for atrocious shooting percentages, as Duke is at 30.9 and A&M 33.8. The Blue Devils win the rebound battle 48-39 and commit 18 turnovers to the Aggies’ 14. Duke gets its points by knocking down six 3-pointers and going 21-for-30 from the line to the visitors’ 10-for-14.
They said it …
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: “It was just a great fight, a great game. You know, (Jim Valvano) would really like two undefeated teams playing against each other, and he’d like a crowd and excitement and passion. He probably would have liked a couple of overtimes or something like that. … Think about where we’ll be when we shoot 48-50 percent and play that kind of defense. And I think that’s a matter of time. We’ve got statistical fluctuations right now relative to subs. We’ve got a lot of people trying to assimilate and that’s going to disrupt continuity a little bit. And to give (the Aggies) credit, their defense is very, very good, too.”
A&M coach Gary Blair: “This was as good as it gets. Neither team shot the ball well, but a lot of that was because of the defense being played and the early game in December. This was as good of a ball game as Connecticut and Baylor played, and when you've got four teams like ourselves that are willing to risk and play each other in home-and-homes, we need more of this in women's basketball. It was a good game for television.”
Jasmine Thomas: “That (winning) shot, it was at the end of the shot clock. I had to make a play, had to put a shot up, no time to pass it, and I just put it in. … You think about (revenge.) It’s always something in the back of your mind, the previous games — especially last year when we by no means played the way we wanted to. We just had to be more focused tonight, focused on not doing the same things we did last year. Being better, staying focused and finishing the game out.”
Christmas: “I think I was just at the right place at the right time, really (for the final steal). I tried to play tight, not let them get a shot off, but just being in the right spot was what helped me come up with that steal.”
What does it all mean?
That Duke got its revenge on an old nemesis, while A&M is also certainly in the mix for a shot at the Final Four.
Stars of the game
1. Jasmine Thomas.
Play of the game
Jasmine Thomas’ jumper from the stripe for the 59-58 Duke lead.
A&M leads 3-1.
Duke: Won 9.
A&M: Lost 1.
Duke vs. Albany, Thursday, 7 p.m.
Texas A&M vs. Purdue, Thursday, 8 p.m.