GREENSBORO – Jewell Loyd scored 18 of her 26 points in the second half, and No. 2 Notre Dame capped its perfect first run through the Atlantic Coast Conference by beating No. 10 Duke, 69-53, on Sunday night in the league tournament final.
Kayla McBride added 25 points to help the top-seeded Fighting Irish (32-0) – last year’s Big East champions – win their second consecutive conference tournament and extend the best start in school history with their third victory against the Blue Devils in five weeks.
Haley Peters had 18 points and Elizabeth Williams finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds for the second-seeded Blue Devils (27-6), who shot 44 percent but had 20 turnovers.
They reached the ACC title game for the sixth time in seven years under coach Joanne P. McCallie, but were denied their second straight championship and fell to 1-9 in the series.
Duke’s best chance to claw back into the game came when Ka’lia Johnson went to the line with her team down 10 with 2:23 left.
But she missed the front end of a one-and-one, McBride followed with two free throws, and after a turnover, Loyd hit a fast-break layup to put Notre Dame up, 65-51, and send the Irish on their way to their seventh tournament title in their third different league.
They won what’s now known as the Horizon League six times before winning the Big East on their way out of that conference.
Ultimately, the two Blue Devils most capable of keeping up with Loyd – guards Chelsea Gray and Alexis Jones – were on the bench in sweats with season-ending knee injuries.
Loyd, who averaged 19 points in the two previous wins over Duke, had a hand in six of the nine baskets during a 19-4 run early in the second half that put Notre Dame in control.
She hit two 3s and knocked down a jumper from the free-throw line before her quick pass set up McBride’s jumper in the lane that put the Irish up 38-32 and drew a timeout from Duke with 16:19 left.
Loyd also had a highlight-reel layup off a half-court pass from Lindsay Allen, and her three-point play with 12:05 left pushed the lead to 49-36.
Duke pulled within eight with just under 9 minutes left before Michaela Mabrey swished a deep 3-pointer that restored Notre Dame’s double-figure lead.
By that point, the Irish were well on their way to yet another double-digit win: 30 of their 32 victories were decided by at least 10 points.
They beat Florida State by 26 in the quarterfinals before their 35-point semifinal romp against No. 14 North Carolina State.
The Irish became the first school to go 19-0 through ACC regular-season and tournament play since Duke in 2001-02 and 2002-03, and all but two of their games were decided by double figures.
That included three one-sided wins over the league’s preseason favorite, Duke.
Notre Dame won the previous two by a combined 32 points, including a 21-point drubbing on Feb. 2 that marked Duke’s first ACC loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 2008 and an 11-point defeat in South Bend two weeks earlier.