"They played very hard," Auburn assistant Coach Joanie O'Brien said about the Tigers. "We cannot fault them for their effort. We had too many turnovers which led to some easy baskets. Our kids responded and we just missed some shots. I think we proved ourselves and our kids realized we can play with anybody in the country. That's going to be the lesson we take from this game."
Led by senior Le'Coe Willingham's 19 points and nine rebounds, Auburn overcame a sluggish start and eight-point halftime deficit to make a game of it in the second half. Trailing by as many as 10 points in the final 20 minutes the Tigers leaned on Willingham inside and the combination of Taneisha Thompson and Tasha Brown off the bench to make a run at the Blue Devils.
Fighting back to even the Tigers took the lead with just over seven minutes left in the game when Thompson drilled a jumper from the free throw line for the 53-51 advantage. After swapping baskets in the next minute the Blue Devils took over for the rest of the game with Beard and Iccis Tillis controlling play down the stretch. Duke took the lead at 57-55 with 6:15 left on a Beard jumper and Auburn tried to answer by getting the ball in to Willingham. Making a move in the paint, she was called for a charge and that turned the momentum of the game. Duke scored four points off of two consecutive Auburn turnovers and coasted to the nine-point victory to improve to 4-1 on the season. The Tigers drop to 4-2 on the season.
While the turnovers were a major concern this season in both Auburn losses to Notre Dame and Duke, the defense has been brilliant this season and was especially so on Sunday. The Blue Devils came into the game averaging 99 points per game this season, but were held to just 66 by the Tigers. O'Brien said that is something they are proud of and it should pay off down the stretch this season.
"I thought the match-up defense tonight was wonderful," O'Brien said. "Any mistakes we made we were covering for each other. We hadn't been doing that the first four games. We hadn't covered for each other. They did that tonight."
Willingham was the only Tiger player to finish in double-figures on Sunday with All-SEC candidate Natasha Brackett held to just seven points and only two in the second half. Both Thompson and Brown finished with six points in the game along with Tia Miller. The Tigers outrebounded the Blue Devils 34-30 on the day, but couldn't overcome the turnovers in the loss. Auburn returns home to face North Carolina A&T Friday night Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.