Duke scratches and claws for ugly upset

DURHAM, N.C. -- Rutgers arrived at Cameron Indoor Stadium riding one of the nation's most impressive winning streaks, claiming victories over three highly ranked opponents. But that winning streak ground to a halt in fairly unimpressive fashion as Duke edged out Rutgers for a 49-44 victory.

"We had no excuse. We just weren't as tough as we needed to be -- we deserved to lose," Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. "If we don't mind losing, then I don't mind helping us lose."

Neither offense ever got into much of a rhythm, but it was Duke (6-3) who rode the game's final spurt to victory, ending on a three-game losing streak in the process. Rutgers (5-2) held a late four-point lead on a putback of a missed free throw by Heather Zurich, but the Blue Devils went on an 11-2 run to score a come-from-behind win.

"The game is pretty, it's beautiful, there's a song to it, and I've got to have it sung a certain way," Stringer said. "Winning takes care of itself, but it's not just about winning."

"It was very disjointed and it was without harmony," Stringer added. "It needs to be pretty, it's poetic, it flows. It did not flow and I was not happy."

The game had the harmony and flow of a middle school band rehearsal. There were more turnovers (38) than field goals (35). Duke went nearly six minutes without a point at the beginning of the game and Rutgers went stretches of 10:29 and 6:41 without field goals.

It appeared in the opening minutes that Rutgers would run away with the game. After the Blue Devils scored on their opening possession, the Scarlet Knights dropped 11 straight points while Duke was misfiring on the other end. But even with the 11-2 edge, Rutgers was playing sloppy offense and had no answers when the Blue Devils retreated into a zone.

The Scarlet Knights admitted after the game that they didn't attack the zone and settled for jump shots throughout the night. And when those jump shots weren't falling, Duke was allowed to linger long enough to make that final push.

"We took breaks on plays, and you can't take breaks on plays against Duke," Stringer said.

Rutgers could do nothing to shake things up. After the sluggish play continued in the second half, Stringer lifted her entire starting lineup for five bench players. The move never really paid dividends and while Rutgers' went through wild spikes in streaky shooting and long droughts, the Blue Devils kept an even keel, keeping the margin close until they could make a final push.

"Maybe a lot of coaches would've said, leave the starters in and figure out what they need to do, but I don't believe in that," Stringer said. "No one is on the floor unless they're doing what I need to do when I say do it. Simple is that. If we learned something from that, fine. If we didn't, then it'll happen again."

Everything in the box score was more or less identical -- Rutgers committed two more turnovers and grabbed two more rebounds and the shooting percentages were near identical. But the difference in the game was last-minute execution.

Basically, Rutgers continued to implode and Duke took advantage. The Scarlet Knights came up with a stop but Epiphanny Price traveled while corralling the rebound. Matee Ajavon then committed a foul 30 feet from the basket trying to fight through a screen to put Carrem Gay on the line for 1-and-1. The Scarlet Knights had a chance to win but the offense was out of sorts and Ajavon threw up a wild shot in the lane. Duke got the rebound, and in the chaos surrounding the scrum for the ball and the ensuing foul, Stringer was whistled for a technical, a meltdown that officially clinched the game for the Blue Devils.

Player of the Game: Epiphanny Price seemed like the only player on the floor intent on pushing the tempo. She led all scorers with 15 points and forced five steals. Her three 3-pointers were more than everyone else combined and she also grabbed nine rebounds from the guard spot. But she also turned the ball over five times and could never settle her team into a rhythm. Carrem Gay came off the bench for the Blue Devils to score 11 points (tied for a team high), five rebounds and three assists (also tied for a team high) and for a while seemed like the only Devil capable of making a shot. The bench chipped in 17 points and seven assists for Duke, arguably the difference in the game. And Gay was the best player off the bench.

Play of the Game: It actually happened while the players were off the floor. Stringer's inexcusable technical with 10.9 seconds left cost her team a chance at a win -- even if the Knights' play in the first 39:50 really justified that opportunity. Given that Keturah Jackson only made one-of-two free throws, Rutgers would've had more than enough time to set up a game-tying inside shot or a game-winning 3. But with Abby Waner knocking down both techs, Rutgers had no chance on its final possession. Stringer said, "If we don't mind losing, then I don't mind helping us lose." She certainly lived by those words. As for her explanation for that series of events...

Quote of the Game: Eleven minutes into the press conference, Stringer was finally asked about the technical, and after measuring her words for a few seconds responded, "I won't say anything, let me not comment. I'm just going to leave it alone. I'm not too surprised. I've gotten in enough trouble."

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)