DURHAM, N.C. -- The game is starting to come more easily to freshman Allison Vernerey, which could make Duke even tougher to run down in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Vernerey had a season-high 20 points and 10 rebounds to help the Blue Devils (No. 7 ESPN/USA Today, No. 8 AP) beat North Carolina State 70-39 on Thursday night, earning their 13th straight 20-win season and keeping them alone atop the league standings.
Vernerey had 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting in the first 20 minutes for the Blue Devils (20-4, 8-1), including a run of eight straight points that helped Duke build a big early lead. Duke ran out to a 14-2 lead against the overmatched Wolfpack (13-11, 3-6), leading by 20 points before the half was even over.
The Blue Devils -- wearing pink-trimmed white uniforms as part of a breast cancer awareness effort -- shot 47 percent and dominated the boards just as they did in Monday night's rout of another nearby rival, North Carolina. Duke finished with a 47-27 rebounding advantage, including 17 on the offensive end that led to 15 second-chance points.
So much of that started with Vernerey, a 6-foot-5 center who had seven offensive rebounds to nearly match NC State's team total (eight).
"She's just been working hard in practice," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "She's just low-maintenance, she listens and does what's asked of her and really gets aggressive."
Vernerey got off to a strong start this year but then slowed in December as she failed to reach double figures in 11 of 12 games -- a stretch that included a scoreless four-minute appearance in a win against Miami earlier this month.
But she bounced back with 11 points in a rout of ranked Florida State on Jan. 29. Two games later, she got her first start and finished with 10 points and six rebounds in Monday night's 79-51 rout of the Tar Heels.
On Thursday night, she scored the game's first basket less than a minute in, capping a possession in which Duke got four shots thanks to its work on the offensive glass.
A few minutes later, Vernerey scored inside and got fouled. She missed the free throw but ended up with the loose rebound and soon got fouled again, sending her back to the line where she made both shots. By the time she scored on consecutive possessions with about 6½ minutes left in the half, she had surpassed her previous high of 13 points and Duke led 26-10.
Then, after the Wolfpack clawed within 13 points midway through the second half, Vernerey scored twice during an 8-0 run that pushed the margin back above 20.
"I tried to work hard but it didn't pay for a while," Vernerey said. "Now it's paying more and I'm just trying to keep going like that."
Vernerey's performance highlighted the absence of NC State forward Tia Bell, who missed her third straight game with a knee injury and forced coach Kellie Harper's already-undersized team to play even smaller.
"We knew that rebounding was going to be a key point for our team and we were unable to keep them off the boards," Harper said. "They did a nice job of being relentless and finding ways to get second shots."
The game also continued Duke's strong play on the defensive end, where it leads the ACC in scoring and is second in field-goal percentage defense. The Blue Devils held the Seminoles and Tar Heels to 43 and 51 points, respectively, and then held NC State to a season-low scoring output.
"Every game, you can't control if the ball is going in, but you can control how hard you go, you making it to the right spot and you sliding your feet," said senior Joy Cheek, who had 10 rebounds. "And we like to shut teams down. We like to have scores like this where we can lock you up and not let teams go off on us."
NC State didn't score its first field goal for nearly seven minutes and shot just 24 percent. The Wolfpack have now lost six of seven games.
Freshman Marissa Kastanek overcame a nightmarish start to finish with 14 points for the Wolfpack, but leading scorer and rebounder Bonae Holston had just two points on 1-for-9 shooting.