In some of the No. 11 Oregon State women’s basketball team’s biggest games this season, the Beavers have struggled down the stretch.
They let a big fourth-quarter lead on South Carolina evaporate before Katie McWilliams hit two free throws in the final seconds to hold on for a two-point win in the Vancouver Showcase semifinals.
A day later, Oregon State jumped out big on then-No. 1 Notre Dame before the reigning national champions tied it. The Irish then dominated the final three-plus minutes for a 10-point win.
In last weekend’s Maui Jim Maui Classic in Hawaii, the Beavers were able to overcome a 16-point second-quarter deficit to tie Texas A&M in the fourth quarter.
Hoeever, they could never get over the hump in a six-point loss that dropped them out of a top-10 ranking.
But when Duke looked to make a fourth-quarter push on Thursday night inside a boisterous Gill Coliseum, the Beavers were able to keep the Blue Devils at bay.
Oregon State made the plays down the stretch, the ones that seemed to elude them in those three previous games, to earn a 71-57 victory over Duke.
“A&M made the plays to beat us,” coach Scott Rueck said. “Notre Dame pulled away from us late. So this team is figuring out who we are and how to finish, which every team that has new pieces like we do you’ve got to go through a process like that.
“(Thursday) I was really proud of the way we executed down the stretch to put them away and not give them a chance.”
Like the game with Texas A&M, the Beavers fell behind early against Duke.
OSU was down 11-2 and missed 11 of their first 12 shots before finally getting into a rhythm.
It started once Rueck went to the bench and brought in Aleah Goodman, Kat Tudor and Joanna Grymek.
That trio helped the Beavers close the final four minutes of the first quarter with a 13-2 run to go to the second tied at 15-15.
They also were key throughout the game. Tudor finished with 15 points, Goodman nine and Grymek eight as they combined to hit 12 of 24 shots, including 7 of 14 from beyond the 3-point line.
Grymek had a second straight solid outing off the bench. The 6-foot-8 center played 19 minutes and hit 4 of 5 shots. She had eight points and six rebounds in a career-high 26 minutes against Texas A&M.
“The team is finding her, she’s catching the ball,” Rueck said. “You just see the game slowing down for her. She impacted shots better (Thursday), she didn’t foul and she’s rebounding well. I think it’s just a perfect combination of us getting used to her and her getting comfortable on the floor.”
Defensively, Rueck was pleased with the Beavers’ performance overall and credited that part of the game for helping OSU pull out the victory.
“Overall I felt like we made them work, I liked our intensity,” he said. “We got a couple big shot changes or blocks late in the game that secured it. I thought that was really the underlying story of tonight was here we were challenged, the game was within 10 in the fourth quarter and we put them away, we pulled away and we got the stops that we needed.”
The players will have a few days off before returning to practice on Wednesday to prepare for their final nonconference game of the season against Cal State Bakersfield on Saturday.