DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Celeste Taylor and Elizabeth Balogun each scored 13 points and Duke marked its return to NCAA Tournament action with an 89-49 romp past Iona on Saturday night.
It was the first NCAA Tournament win for Duke since 2018, when it last had a spot in the tournament. Duke has won at least one NCAA Tournament game in all 25 seasons when it has been in the field.
Duke’s Kara Lawson, who appeared in three Final Fours as a Tennessee player, coached in an NCAA Tournament game for the first time.
“I thought our team started the game with great intensity,” Lawson said. “I thought there was a preparedness about them. All of our players who played tonight were really locked in to what we were trying to do. And that’s what you hope for as a coach in March.”
Kennedy Brown and Jordyn Oliver added 10 points apiece as the Blue Devils shot 57.1% from the field.
Third-seeded Duke (26-6) will face sixth-seeded Colorado, an 82-60 winner over Middle Tennessee in the site’s first game, in Monday’s second round.
Lawson has the Blue Devils in a confident mood.
“She just keeps reminding us how great we are,” Balogun said.
“Coach always believes in us,” Oliver said. “She always told us throughout the whole year that we’re a confident team.”
Ketsia Athias led No. 14 seed Iona (26-7) with 20 points. Juana Camilion had 12.
“Obviously not the way we would want to end our season,” Iona coach Billi Chambers said. “We’re not going to allow one game to take away from what this group has done this season.”
Duke led 47-16 at halftime, shooting 60.6% from the field. Ten players scored for the Blue Devils in the first half.
Duke’s late-season scoring snags didn’t resurface, aided by 25 second-chance points and a 14-0 advantage in fast-break scoring.
“I feel like most of the year we’ve generated quality transition opportunities,” Lawson said. “We played a lot on the move tonight and that was good to see.”
In part because of 13 turnovers, Iona managed only 20 shots from the field in the first half and attempted just one free throw.
“This stage was just a little bit big,” Chambers said.
Duke scored the game’s first eight points, but Iona had the next six. Then the Gaels only had four points in the next nine-plus minutes extending into the second quarter. By then, Duke was up 32-10.
“We tried our best and it didn’t work,” Camilion said.
Duke ended up with a 44-14 rebounding advantage.
Iona: The Gaels couldn’t get on track and posted their second-lowest point total in any half of the season while allowing the most first-half points this season.
Duke: The Blue Devils hadn’t scored more than 44 points in their last three games, so seeing the ball go in the basket was a bonus. Duke has five victories this season with margins of 40 or more points.
Duke will play Monday at home against sixth-seeded Colorado. ___
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