Playing an overmatched non-conference opponent before ACC play resumes in earnest later this week, No. 4 Duke made sure its defense was in top form on Sunday.
The Blue Devils tied an NCAA record holding Monmouth to three first-half points on the way to a 73-32 women’s basketball win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Monmouth’s meager offense over the first 20 minutes marked the third time in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history a team had scored three points in a half. The others were Savannah State in 2003 against Florida State and Tennessee State in 2010 against Georgia Tech.
“I hate to use the word, but we played scared in the first half, offensively, to me,” Monmouth coach Jenny Palmateer said. "We played a little intimidated in the first half, and I don't think we did in the second.”
By then, the Blue Devils (11-0) were well on their way to a lopsided win. Duke led 29-3 at halftime as Monmouth made 1 of 25 shots from the field for four percent shooting. The Hawks also committed 12 of their 29 turnovers in the first half.
The three points allowed in the first half were a Duke school record.
“You're not necessarily trying to do that, per se, but we were trying to be very focused on things that we were trying to accomplish defensively,” said Duke Coach Joanne P. McCallie, whose team plays at N.C. State on Thursday night.
Duke played its first game since a 75-60 win at Southern California on Dec. 22. The Blue Devils held only two practices between that game and Sunday’s game with Monmouth.
While Duke’s offense wasn’t its best, the defense made things easy.
“I think everybody was putting their energy into it,” Duke junior forward Tricia Liston said. “We were really trying to make a statement with our defense today.”
While Monmouth (3-8) went nearly the first 10 minutes of the game without a field goal by missing its first 12 shots from the field, Duke slowly built a lead. The Blue Devils shot only 32.3 percent in the first half, finishing at 42.9 percent for the game.
Duke had a season-high 24 turnovers and a season-low 13 assists.
“Sometimes offense isn’t beautiful or artistic,” McCallie said. “And is certainly wasn’t in the first half.”
McCallie attributed her team’s struggles to score early to the layoff for the holidays.
“We missed a bunch of layups,” McCallie said. “I mean my God, we missed 16 layups in the first half. A lack of focus. Trying to get after it, but your body has been sort of sedentary for too long.”
The Blue Devils did play better on offense in the second half, as did Monmouth. Duke shot 53.1 percent in the second half. Liston scored a team-high 15 points and late surges by Chelsea Gray (13 points) and Haley Peters (11 points) pushed them into double figures.
“Some things were getting rushed and we were taking some bad shots,” Liston said. “But once we got into our offense and got the ball reversed a little bit, we got the shots we were looking for.”
Despite playing without injured leading scorer Alysha Womack (hyper-extended knee), Monmouth mercifully found its groove on offense in the second half as well. After that three-point first half, the Hawks hit shots on three consecutive possessions early in the second half.
That removed any chance Monmouth had of the NCAA record for futility in a game. Tennessee State holds that mark with 11 points in that game at Georgia Tech in 2010.
Palmateer, though, left Cameron impressed with Duke’s team.
“The speed that Duke plays with, their length and their speed and their athleticism and their quickness,” Palmateer said, “it makes us operate at a speed we’re not used to having to operate at and it really shows up on the offensive end more than anything else.”
Duke looks to keep that edge on defense as it plays its second ACC game of the season, and first of 2013, on Thursday. The Blue Devils opened their 18-game conference schedule with an 85-52 win over Georgia Tech on Dec. 6.
In N.C. State, the Blue Devils will face the team that knocked them out of the ACC Tournament with a quarterfinal upset last March.
“The game last year in the tournament kind of hurt, kind of stung a little bit,” Liston said
“It will be nice to have another go at it.”