Duke tops St. Johns with defense
Unlike the rest of her Duke teammates, Haley Peters wasn’t playing her first basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.
The Red Bank, N.J., native gained that experience as an 8-year-old with her Girl Scout troop.
“I shot 100 percent,” Peters said.
She and the No. 4-ranked Blue Devils didn’t come close that accuracy on offense Sunday against St. John’s. But because their defense was far more than child’s play, the Blue Devils walked away happy.
Duke clamped down on the Red Storm, limiting them to 32 percent shooting, to post a 60-42 win in the Maggie Dixon Classic.
“It was a nice battle out there today,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Obviously it was defensive oriented, no doubt. I liked our team’s presence on defense. I liked that we stuck with some things. ... Certainly it was a great team defensive effort overall to hold them to 42 (points).”
The Blue Devils hounded St. John’s into 16 turnovers and didn’t let it have open looks on 3-pointers, where the Red Storm (4-3) made 3 of 12. Duke had nine steals and blocked nine shots, with sophomore center Elizabeth Williams collecting five blocks.
Meanwhile, Duke’s offense had its toughest day of the season, failing to score 70 points for the first time.
But the Blue Devils (8-0) passed the ball well enough to record 14 assists on their 22 made field goals. More than half of Duke’s points (34) came on the interior as Williams led the Blue Devils with 16 points.
Part of the problem on offense, McCallie said, was likely due to playing in Madison Square Garden. Three days after blitzing Georgia Tech 85-52 in the ACC opener at the more intimate Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils’ shots weren’t as true.
“Offensively, we weren’t exactly at the level of things that we like to do,” McCallie said, “and that’s a good learning lesson for us coming off Georgia Tech and coming into New York and learning how to perform in different arenas.”
Peters’ hometown is a 90-minute train ride from midtown Manhattan, which gave her a great appreciation for playing a game in the Garden.
“It’s really unbelievable to have the opportunity,” she said. “I think you could see a bit of the jitters we had early on, shooting some air balls and things like that. I mean, it’s so cool. We just walked down the hallway to our locker room and there are pictures of Elton John, John Lennon and Beyonce. It’s really cool. It’s an honor.”
Unlike her Girl Scout days, Peters only made 4 of 11 shots. But her 11 points were second-most for Duke behind Williams. Reserve guard Ka’Lia Johnson added 10 points for the Blue Devils.
“Elizabeth battled hard, Haley battled hard and I thought Ka’Lia Johnson was a big x-factor off the bench for us,” McCallie said.
Williams, last year’s national freshman of the year, continues to play at less than 100 percent due to persistent leg and feet issues. The stress fracture in her leg she played with at the end of last season, including Duke’s 74-47 NCAA Tournament win over St. John’s, has been stubbornly slow to heal.
McCallie said the leg problem has led to foot discomfort for Williams, as well. Yet she had another highly productive game on Sunday.
“I admire Elizabeth,” McCallie said. “This has been a long thing. I mean she had a broken leg when we were playing against St. John’s last year. That’s basically what it was. We’re probably now, what, eight months past that? That’s healed but now we’re dealing with some things that come with that. It’s unbelievable.”
No. 4 Duke 60, St. John’s 42
Percentages: FG .373, FT .684. 3-Point Goals: 3-5, .600 (Liston 2-3, Gray 1-1, Wells 0-1). Team Rebounds: 8. Blocked Shots: 9 (Williams 5, Peters 2, Vernerey, Liston). Turnovers: 12 (Gray 5, Johnson 2, Williams, Jones, Vernerey, Peters). Steals: 9 (Gray 3, Johnson 2, Wells 2, Jones, Peters). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .321, FT .417. 3-Point Goals: 3-12, .250 (McKenith 2-4, Brown 1-4, Langley 0-1, Smith 0-3). Team Rebounds: 7. Blocked Shots: 10 (Smith 4, McKenith 2, Nwachukwu 2, Thompson, Handford). Turnovers: 16 (McKenith 8, Smith 3, Brown 2, Langley 2, Handford). Steals: 6 (McKenith 2, Langley 2, Brown, Smith). Technical Fouls: None.
A—4,333. Officials—Dennis DeMayo, Sue Blauch, Rachelle Jones.