by Mike Potter
And when ACC champion and No. 6 Duke (29-3) hosts a Tennessee-Martin team that is in its first NCAA Tournament after winning the Ohio Valley Conference title, we’ll see whether or not it’s a big mismatch.
Four of Duke’s 11 players are under six feet tall and everybody plays, while only five players on UTM’s roster are over six feet. All five Duke starters’ eyes are at the tops of the heads of the opponents.
The mismatch does come to fruition, as the Blue Devils roll it up in the second half of a 90-45 victory.
Depth turns out to be a big key, as Martin hangs very tough in the first half.
Duke leads just 41-31 at halftime behind 10 points from Jasmine Thomas. With all 11 players seeing action, the Blue Devils shoot 53.1 percent in the first half. Rebounds are even at 16, while Duke has five turnovers to Martin’s nine.
It’s still only 57-38 with 14:58 to go before the bottom completely falls out for the visitors.
Duke goes on a 33-8 run over the rest of the game.
And over the last 5:51 the Blue Devils play with their own freshman “fab five” on the floor — for the first time since the 83-48 romp over Albany on Dec. 9 — and go on a 17-4 spree to finish the game.
Jasmine Thomas leads Duke with 18 points, followed by freshmen Haley Peters and Chelsea Gray with 11 apiece. All 11 players score at least four points and everybody gets a rebound.
Heather Butler plays all 40 minutes and leads UTM with 15 points, followed by Taylor Hall with 10.
Duke outshoots the visitors 53.6 percent to 34.9, wins the rebound battle 38-30 and has a season low in turnovers (eight) with a season high in assists (25).
They said it …
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: “It was a good game, and obviously we were very excited to play again after a long time being off. I was extremely impressed with our team in the second half. To hold any team, at this level, to 14 second-half points is a tremendous accomplishment. To also hold down their go-to players and not allow them to score was terrific. To see us create 25 assists for each other, finding each other, playing off each other and only have eight turnovers shows great, intelligent play.”
UTM coach Kevin McMillan: “If I’m Duke, that game went according to the script that that little team is probably going to come out here and fight and claw and scratch. And if we (hypothetically, Duke) don’t let it get out of hand — out of hand meaning tied at half or something like that — we’re going to wear them down. I think that’s what you saw. You can only battle for so long before that size laying on you and pushing, it’s going to wear you out.”
Jasmine Thomas: “I think we’re right on pace. I think in both halves of that game, offensively we really did a good job of moving the ball, finding open players inside and out, off the pass. I think we would like to see us get to the free-throw line a little more, but I think from an assist standpoint we are definitely moving the ball better.”
Krystal Thomas: “We could have exploited our size more. I mean by that the posts could have done a better job of posting and finishing inside the lane getting rebounds. If you look down at the post rebounds they aren’t very impressive. (But) I thought overall the team did a good job.”
Haley Peters: “We played in a great tournament (ACC) a little more than a week ago. It just felt like it was another game. I think something that changed at halftime was, for me, I stepped up my intensity a bit because I felt like this is the most important time of the year and we need to be on top of our game. We can’t be messing around with teams.”
What does it all mean?
That Duke rolls into the second round pretty comfortably, and that Martin’s young bunch has gained some valuable experience heading into next season.
Stars of the game
1. Jasmine Thomas.
2. Haley Peters.
3. Chelsea Gray.
Play of the game
Krystal Thomas’ follow shot to make it 46-31 with 19:14 left.
Duke leads 1-0.
Duke: Won 8.
UTM: Lost 1.
Duke vs. Marist, Monday, 7 p.m.