Chelsea Gray denies Marist's upset, bumps Duke into Sweet 16

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie has talked often about how a demanding schedule prepared her team for the NCAA tournament. Perhaps that's why her players didn't look panicked Monday night, even as they trailed in the final minutes against a fearless team carrying the nation's longest winning streak.

Instead, freshman Chelsea Gray and the Blue Devils answered with the decisive spurt to beat Marist 71-66, sending them on to the tournament's round of 16 for the 13th time in 14 years.

Gray scored all 13 of her points in the second half to help Duke (31-3) rally from 11 down, including the go-ahead free throws with 2:27 left in an 11-0 run that finally put the second-seeded Blue Devils ahead for good. Krystal Thomas added 10 second-half points, while fellow senior Jasmine Thomas had a team-high 17 as the Blue Devils escaped a stunning loss on their home court.

"We've been together a long time," McCallie said. "We've been in many, many close games. I think we're very comfortable with it. I don't know what people are thinking, but at this time it's not about blowouts and leads. ... I think our team did slow down a little bit and executed and relaxed and enjoyed the opportunity."

That seemed to be a fitting word for this game considering how close the 10th-seeded Red Foxes (31-3) came from pulling off a huge upset. Despite playing the second half without injured leading scorer Erica Allenspach, Marist led 60-54 on a 3-pointer from Kate Oliver with 5:22 left and even had a shot to tie it in the final seconds after the Blue Devils had taken the lead.

Corielle Yarde had 25 points and 12 rebounds to lead Marist, which had won 27 straight games overall.

"I thought it was one of the best performances our kids have ever had in any game," Marist coach Brian Giorgis said.

In the end, however, Marist's players finally wore down against Duke's variety of pressure and trapping defenses. Duke shot 55 percent in the second half after going 11-for-34 (32 percent) before the break, with Thomas setting a more physical tone by scoring on several stickbacks in the paint.

Gray, meanwhile, scored seven points during the Duke's 11-0 run for the lead. She followed a basket from fellow freshman Haley Peters with a 3-pointer, then stole the ball on the press and was fouled to give her the go-ahead free throws. Two possessions later, she poked the ball loose from Oliver and got out in transition for a layup that capped the run and gave Duke a 65-60 lead with 1:33 left.

That run gave Duke its first lead since 8-7.

"Coach P had stressed defense in the locker room," Gray said. "I wanted to come out there and just play D. That's what we had to do in order to get the win. That gave me momentum, and I knocked down a 3, and then I just got excited from there."

Trailing 69-66, Marist had a chance to force overtime, but Leanne Ockenden missed a good look on a 3-pointer in the final seconds. Peters came up with the rebound and hit two free throws with 1.9 seconds left to seal the win. That capped the Blue Devils' 16th straight NCAA victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and advanced them in the Philadelphia Regional to face third-seeded DePaul.

Marist came in averaging a national-low 11 turnovers, but Duke forced the Red Foxes into a season-high 20 turnovers that led to 28 points. Marist often broke that pressure for lay-ups early, but started fumbling the ball away in the backcourt when Duke made its move.

Losing Allenspach in the first half didn't help. She cut under a screen from Allison Vernerey while defending Jasmine Thomas, then crumpled to the court clutching a sprained left ankle. She was helped to the locker room for X-rays with 5:44 left in the first half and didn't play again, returning to the bench with about 14½ minutes left to cheer on her teammates.

"We definitely got tired, that's for sure," Oliver said. "Duke didn't let up and we knew that was going to happen. We knew they weren't going to roll over and let us have it. It just came down to their pressure at the end. It just beat us."