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Despite lethargic start, Duke claws into ACC title game

Duke and Miami squared off Saturday afternoon in the second game of the ACC Conference Tournament, semifinals. Neither team got off to a hot start, but down the stretch, the contest stayed entertaining. Once again Lexie Brown delivered for the Blue Devils.

NCAA Womens Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs Miami Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Conway, SC — The second semi-final match-up in the ACC Tournament featured the 7-seeded Miami Hurricanes versus the 3-seeded Duke Blue Devils.

It was a slow start by both teams, but Duke took an early 4-1 lead. Miami was able to close the gap and remain within a point or two for the rest of the first quarter. It didn’t take long for this one to get competitive.

In the second period, the game was all tied up at 12. Then the Hurricanes got their first lead of the game with just over seven minutes left in the first half off a jumper by Erykah Davenport. This was quickly followed by a lay-up by Keyona Hayes. The Blue Devils responded with a three-pointer of their own to close the gap to one. Not long after, Duke was able to regain the lead with a jumper by Lexie Brown, making it 17-16.

With 4:25 left, Jessica Thomas made a free throw to tie it up at 17. The back-and-forth scoring continued. Duke took the largest lead in a while with a jumper by Leaonna Odom, making it 23-20 with 20 seconds left in the first half. With the Hurricanes unable to get a shot off before the buzzer, that was the score at the break.

Leading both teams in points and rebounds at the half was none other than Duke’s Brown with nine and six, respectively.

The third quarter was all about the three-pointers. The Blue Devils immediately extended their lead with one by Kyra Lambert to make it 26-20. Not too much later, the Hurricanes’ Adrienne Motley made a three-pointer of her own to lessen the difference to three.

With just under five left in the period, Duke took a healthy 38-29 lead when Brown joined the three-pointer party. The very next play Laura Cornelius responded with a three-pointer for Miami. Although a lot of triples were made by both teams, even more, were missed.

Duke began the fourth quarter with a one-point lead at 38-37. By a minute and a half in, it was all tied up at 40 thanks to a jumper by Miami’s Thomas. The Hurricanes then took the lead after a layup by Hayes. They didn’t hold it for long, though.

Rebecca Greenwell missed out on the three-point fun in the third, so she hit two in the fourth. With some additional help from her teammates, Duke took a 51-46 lead with 4:32 left on the clock. Miami then made back-to-back-to-back layups to pull ahead with under two minutes remaining.

Brown was fouled and sunk both her free throws to give Duke the 53-52 advantage. The Hurricanes didn’t learn their lesson as they fouled Brown again, except this time she made both the original shot and the free throw that followed. The Blue Devils led by four with 16.9 seconds on the clock.

Miami was unable to find the net again and Duke held on to win with a final of 57-52.

Thomas was honest regarding her emotions after the game, saying, “It hurts because we let it slip away. It’s just a matter of execution.”

Hurricane Head Coach Katie Meier made one thing clear: her team left everything on the court.

“We did not give this game to Duke. We fought hard to take the lead and they fought hard to take it back.”

Duke will play the three-time defending ACC champions Notre Dame in the Championship game.

When asked if the team saw themselves in this position after being picked to finish sixth in the conference, Duke Head Coach Joanne McCallie said, “Apparently we’re the only ones who did.”

Duke will play the three-time defending ACC champions Notre Dame in the Championship game in what will be a re-match of the 2014 Championship game. Tip-off is set for Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN2.