by Jim Sumner
For the first time since 1994, the Duke women won't be around for Saturday action at the ACC Tournament. North Carolina State stunned the sloppy and unfocused Blue Devils 75-73 Friday afternoon, sending the Blue Devils home to lick their wounds and await their NCAA Tournament fate.
A quick look at the stat sheet shows numerous causes for defeat. An under-sized Wolfpack team had three more offensive rebounds than Duke and five more second-chance points. Duke had 22 turnovers, leading to 26 State points. The Wolfpack turned it over only 15 times.
State converted 16-of-20 foul shots, while Duke was a miserable 9-for-19 from the line. Chelsea Gray, who went into the game shooting just under 82 percent from the line, missed five-of-nine from the line, including the first end of a one-and-one with two seconds left and Duke down by two.
But those are symptoms of a more general malaise that Duke never really shook. Duke pounded NC State 83-59 almost two months and human nature being human nature, it was obvious that Duke didn't think State could hang with them, even after the Wolfpack clawed back from a 10-point, second-half deficit to defeat Florida State in Thursday night's tournament action.
State coach Kellie Harper said her team was "very focused and very motivated."
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie noted that her club lacked urgency. "It's a great lesson in concentration. But more importantly, it's a great lesson in urgency. I do not think we were urgent until the second half."
The first rule in handling an underdog is not let them hang around and gain confidence. Duke violated that rule in a big way against the Wolfpack.
State jumped on Duke early, using an 11-2 run to open a 13-6 lead at the 13:29 mark. Duke tied the game at 17, 24, 29, 31 and 34, before taking a tenuous 37-36 lead into intermission.
Duke had only four assists at the half, a vivid illustration of how chaotic was Duke's offense. Duke had trouble getting the ball to Elizabeth Williams in good position and the freshman post still hasn't mastered the art of passing out of the double team. She had three first-half turnovers.
Eventually, Duke's offense devolved into get-Chelsea-Gray-the-ball-and-get-out-of-the-way. Gray had 16 first-half points and added six rebounds and a pair of steals. But she also had no assists, four turnovers and three missed foul shots.
Duke seemed to be on the verge of taking command on several occasions in the second half, leading 41-36, 48-44, and 56-50. But a missed foul shot, an unforced turnover, a failed box out and here comes State.
The rebounding lapses were troubling. "We would make a great defensive play and stop," McCallie lamented. "They had some critical points on putbacks."
State began their decisive move with just over nine minutes remaining and Duke up 58-54. A 3-pointer by Emili Tasler put State up 60-59, another by Myisha Goodwin-Coleman extended the lead to 64-62.
On the other end, Duke started having empty possessions. Gray, who had career-high eight turnovers said Duke was trying to make the difficult play instead of taking what was there. With the game on the line, Duke went over three minutes without a field goal.
McCallie was especially upset with a sequence with about three-and-half minutes left. After Williams ended the field-goal drought with a lay-up to cut State's lead to 68-65, Marissa Kastanek sprinted down the floor unimpeded and buried a wide-open 3-pointer.
"If that's not a classic, I don't know what is," McCallie said. "That should never happen when you score. That's what I mean by urgency. It was an immediate need to be in the next moment. And we did not have that immediate need."
Williams fouled out with 2:54 left. Kastanek made two foul shots to make the score 73-65.
To their credit, Duke clawed almost all the way back. Tricia Liston hit a couple of 3s, Duke got some stops and Tasler missed two huge foul shots. Duke got the ball to Gray, but she couldn't convert from the line and Duke ended its tournament shockingly early.
McCallie said her team had to learn from the miscues. "Just work hard, take the lesson, take every bit of the lesson. It's up to us to take ownership of it and to never forget it."
Elizabeth Williams had seven blocks, setting an ACC Tournament single-game record. Duke had a dozen blocks, tying the team record for one tournament game.
Gray's 25 points was a career-high.
This was the first time the number one seed of the tournament has lost in the quarterfinals. Duke has advanced to the title game the last four seasons, winning in 2010 and 2011.