by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke begins another quest today.
After three straight NCAA Tournaments in which a great Blue Devil team ended its run in the Elite Eight, perhaps this team is good enough to make a Final Four.
Of course no NCAA Tournament run will ever be easy, although at least Joanne P. McCallie’s club gets to start at home.
Today’s opponent for the No. 5 Blue Devils (30-2), seeded No. 2 in the Norfolk Region behind Notre Dame, is four-time defending MEAC champion Hampton (28-5), which is seeded No. 15 but both head coaches think it should be higher.
Hampton has come to Cameron in this situation before, losing 72-37 in the first round in 2010.
Hampton has brought about 1,000 fans, making the seating sections a sea of royal blue since the schools’ colors are so similar.
The Blue Devils have to fight to escape, but finally win 67-51 for their 17th straight NCAA Tournament victory in Durham.
They’ll take on No. 7 seed Oklahoma State (22-10), which beat DePaul 73-56 in the second game, in the second round here Tuesday night at 7.
Duke has a relatively easy first half, leading 32-15 at the break after shooting 40.6 percent to the Pirates’ 21.1.
But Hampton makes a run.
The Pirates cut the margin to 46-40 on a jumper from Keiara Avant with 10:14 left, then get two possessions with a chance to make it closer.
But the Blue Devils respond with a 10-2 run, with Haley Peters’ layup making it 56-42 with 5:46 remaining.
Duke’s biggest lead is 67-48 on a Tricia Liston 3-pointer with 1:17 to go.
Liston leads the Blue Devils with 20 points including four 3-pointers to surpass the 1,000-point milestone, followed by Elizabeth Williams with 18 points. Two other Duke players have double-doubles, as Peters finishes with 12 points and 10 rebounds for her eighth of the season while freshman point guard Alexis Jones has 11 points and 10 assists.
Avant leads Hampton with 18 points, followed by Olivia Allen with 15 and Ariel Phelps eight points to go with her 10 rebounds.
Duke shoots 45.2 percent to the Pirates’ 31.7 and wins the rebound battle 44-36. The Blue Devils commit 18 turnovers to Hampton’s 17
Hampton coach David Six: “I’m certainly proud of my ladies. We cut it back to six, and I felt like we gave Duke a moment of pause. It’s tough. They’re a great team. I said nothing this weekend would make me think we were a 15 seed and my mind still hasn’t changed. We weren’t a 15 seed.”
Liston: “Hampton is a great team. They’re very athletic, very skilled and they play hard. This was a good game for us and a good test for us, and this game will be good to challenge us for future games. They had great ball pressure, and we had to do some things we hadn’t done in the past couple of games. I think this will really help us grow.”
Jones: “I was pretty excited about my first March Madness game. I thought we handled the game well, we came out ready to play and I felt the energy we brought to the floor. I just needed to calm down and slow the game down a bit, execute and take it play-by-play on the offensive and defensive sides.”
What does it all mean?
That Duke is good enough to withstand a strong run in an early NCAA Tournament game, and that Hampton should indeed have had a higher seed.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Williams’ jumper from Liston to make it 50-42 with 7:33 to go.
Duke: Won 5.
Hampton: Lost 1.
Duke leads 5-0.
Duke vs. Oklahoma State, Tuesday, 7 p.m.