by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke comes into the finale of the local NCAA Women’s Tournament subregional as a favorite, but the assignment is not a piece of cake.
The opponent for the No. 2 seed and No. 6-ranked Blue Devils (30-3) is No. 10 seed and No. 19 Marist (31-2), the champions of the MAAC who have won 27 games in a row.
Duke should have the advantage in depth, but Marist is a frequent participant in the NCAA Tournament and definitely knows how to win.
Marist leads most of the way and puts a real scare into the Blue Devils, who come up with a huge final 4 ½ minutes to escape with a 71-66 victory and earn the trip to Philadelphia.
Duke gets to rest easy for exactly 1.9 seconds at the end of the game.
Marist is completely un-intimidated from the start.
Duke takes an 8-5 lead on a Jasmine Thomas 3-pointer with 16:37 left in the half before Marist takes over for basically the next half an hour. Of game time.
The Red Foxes are up 23-13 following a Kristine Best jumper with 7:50 left in the half before Jasmine Thomas gets it going with six straight points on three field goals.
And Marist suffers what might have been a devastating blow at 5:44, when MAAC player of the year and senior Erica Allenspach goes down with a left ankle injury that will end her college career.
The Red Foxes lead 31-26 at halftime behind 15 points from Corielle Yarde. Jasmine Thomas has 12 at the break for Duke. The Red Foxes shoot 44.4 percent over the first 20 minutes to 32.4 for the Blue Devils, who are leading the rebound battle 25-16.
The second half - until after that final TV timeout - consists of a series of short Duke runs that don’t take the lead, followed by a series of answers.
Duke cuts it to 48-46 on a Chelsea Gray 3-pointer with 10:19 remaining, but Marist takes it back to seven points twice, the last on a Brandy Gang layup that makes it 57-50 at 7:49.
The Red Foxes lead 60-54 on a Kate Oliver 3-pointer with 5:27 to go before the Blue Devils take control with an 11-0 run. Gray has seven points and two steals during the spree, including a steal and the go-ahead free throws that make it 61-60 with 2:27 left.
But Marist never, ever gives up. Duke is ahead 69-66 after Gray makes the first of two free throws with 14 seconds left. Leanne Ockenden misses a 3-pointer from the right elbow eight seconds later and the Blue Devils’ Haley Peters hauls in the rebound, canning two free throws at the other end with 1.9 seconds to play.
Jasmine Thomas paces Duke with 17 points followed by Gray with 13 — all after halftime — and Peters with 12.
Thomas’ fellow seniors Karima Christmas and Krystal Thomas add 11 and 10, respectively, in their final game on their home floor.
Yarde finishes with 25 points and 12 rebounds for Marist, while Oliver finishes with 14 points.
Duke finishes with 42.9 shooting after going 55.2 in the second half, to Marist’s 48.1. The Blue Devils grab 43 rebounds to Marist’s 28, and commit 16 turnovers to the visitors’ 20.
Duke’s 25th straight home win sets a school record.
They said it …
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: “I’m very, very proud of our team and our resolve, particularly in the second 10 minutes of the second half and also the last 4-5 minutes down the stretch. So many people contributed, as you know. Jasmine Thomas was always attacking, always in attack mode, and just so competitive and really carried us at a time when the margin was a little bit wider. … I thought Chelsea played very poised and aggressive, and obviously she made some tremendous plays.”
Marist coach Brian Giorgis: “I thought it was one of the best performances that our kids have had in any game all season. For us to overcome the adversity of losing the straw that stirs our drink [the injury to Erica Allenspach] and to not only play with them, but to increase the lead was tremendous. Unfortunately it is a 40 minute game and we just ran out of gas in the end. Leanne [Ockenden] did a great job of subbing late in the game, and we just have so many young kids that haven’t been in that situation before, so it was hard for us. I haven’t ever been more proud of our team.”
Gray: “The steals got me going. ‘Coach P’ stressed defense in the locker room and that’s what I wanted to do, come out there and play ‘D,’ and that’s what we had to do in order to get the room. That gave me momentum, and then I knocked down a ‘3’ and that got me excited from there and ready to go.”
Jasmine Thomas: “We have experience in the last five minutes against some tough teams, but I don’t think we have played a team like Marist. This was a first-time experience for us. And I think this is good that we got down and were able to survive and advance, because we will see more teams that are capable of shooting like they did down the stretch.”
Yarde: “I’m really excited about next season. Everybody seemed to come together. The young ones stepped up and they didn’t play like freshmen, in my opinion. Everyone played strong for 40 minutes.”
What does it all mean?
That Duke yet again wins by destroying a visiting team after the last TV timeout. And that Marist may well have been the most underrated team in the country.
Stars of the game
3. Jasmine Thomas.
Play of the game
Gray’s steal and two free throws to give Duke the 61-60 lead.
Duke leads 2-0.
Duke: Won 8.
Marist: Lost 1.
Duke vs. DePaul in Philadelphia, Sunday, time TBA