CONWAY, S.C. – With a bye of the first and second rounds, third-seeded Duke opened up play in the ACC Tournament on Friday against sixth-seeded Syracuse at the HTC Center in Conway, S.C.
Junior Lexie Brown shined in her first conference tournament game as a Blue Devil, scoring a team-high 22 points as Duke defeated the Orange by a score of 68-46.
Kendall Cooper finished her impressive night with 12 points and eight rebounds, while teammate Kyra Lambert finished the night with a career-high nine rebounds. Senior Oderah Chidom also enjoyed a night of scoring, tallying 11 points to her name.
Cooper opened up the scoring for the Blue Devils with an early lay-in, followed by a Rebecca Greenwell three, her first shot of the night. Lexie Brown would soon join the party, dropping a shot from beyond the arc.
Tight defense and effective rebounding from both sides kept either team from garnering any momentum in the early going, as the contest would proceed to the second frame with the Blue Devils up 15-14 following a Lexie Brown buzzer-beating three. She would lead the team at the end of the first with eight points.
The Orange got things started in the second frame, re-taking the lead with a hard-earned layup to go up 16-15. Cooper would answer with her third and fourth points of the game, only to be followed by a Syracuse three.
After minutes of scoreless play, senior Oderah Chidom would break it up with a tough basket inside the paint that would be followed by a Greenwell jumper that extended the Blue Devils’ lead to three. That lead would be short-lived, as a Syracuse trey would knot it back up at 22-22. Duke made sure not to allow Syracuse to regain the lead, however, as Chidom would find the basket right as the shot clock expired, making it 24-22.
With just seconds before half, sophomore Kyra Lambert joined the likes of teammate Brown, hitting a deep bucket from beyond the arc as time expired, sending the Blue Devils into the locker room at half up 29-26.
Despite not scoring in the second quarter, Brown would still lead the team at half with eight points. Chidom followed just behind with seven.
The score would reflect 29-26 for the first 2:04 of the second half, until Kendall Cooper’s bucket from near the top of the key extended the lead to five. The physicality of play increased noticeably as the third quarter continued, highlighted by a hard fall from Greenwell on an attempted shot from the paint.
Lexie Brown showed her toughness as well, earning a trip to the charity stripe after a Syracuse foul sent her well beyond the baseline into the group of nearby photographers. Brown’s added point made it 47-39, and the Blue Devils began to pick up steam, improving their defensive play on the other end as well.
Kendall Cooper put an exclamation mark on the third quarter by stuffing an attempted three from Syracuse and sending it into the crowd as the Blue Devils ended the frame with a 51-39 lead. Brown maintained her team lead in points, heading to the fourth quarter with 18.
There would be nothing doing for the first 2:25 of the final frame, until two foul shots from Syracuse made it 51-41. Lexie Brown responded with her third three of the game, giving her 20 points with over half a quarter to play.
Duke would not look back, taking their lead all the way to the final buzzer. Syracuse showed late life in the closing minutes, but the Blue Devils couldn’t seem to miss, essentially nullifying the efforts from the Orange.
One of the keys to Duke’s victory was the containment of Syracuse’s Alexis Peterson, who was named the ACC Player of the Year. The senior only managed nine points on the night, well short of her 23.7 average.
With the win, the Blue Devils advance to Saturday’s semifinal round where they will face the Hurricanes of Miami. Tip is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. with coverage on ESPNU.