CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- No. 6 Duke had been cruising along, barely threatened while making more than half its shots in three straight games. So staring at a 22-7 deficit early Saturday was a jolt to the Blue Devils.
"We were not poised at all," guard Jasmine Thomas said. "We kind of got a little rattled and had to take a minute and calm down and gain composure."
Duke never got into a shooting rhythm and Duke's big guns had to play a lot of minutes, but Thomas' 19 points and her big plays down the stretch helped the Blue Devils fend off pesky Charlotte 61-55 on Saturday to remain unbeaten.
"I thought our senior leadership was incredible," coach Joanne P. McCallie said.
Krystal Thomas added 10 points, a career-high 14 rebounds and eight blocks and Karima Christmas had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Blue Devils (6-0), who trailed 38-30 with 17:12 left before an 18-2 run to take the lead for good.
Duke connected on just 30 percent from the field and missed 11 of 14 3-point attempts but committed only nine turnovers in its first test of the season.
"I feel like this is a great game for us to learn from as a team," McCallie said. "You find yourself in a tough, ugly game, you've got to be a little bit tougher and you've got to find a way. And finding a way is a sign of an excellent team, a special team."
After Jai Forney banked in a 3-pointer to get Charlotte within 56-55, Krystal Thomas scored a transition layup on a nifty feed from Jasmine Thomas with 1:18 left. Jasmine Thomas' steal on the next possession led to Chelsea Gray's free throw with 28 seconds remaining.
"When the game was on the line their guards took over. Jasmine, in particular, took over the game," Charlotte coach Karen Aston said. "We didn't really have an answer for their penetration. ... She made plays when the game was on the line and that's what All-Americans do."
Kendria Holmes scored 15 points, Shannon McCallum added 11 despite foul trouble and Epiphany Woodson had 10 points, six rebounds and six assists for Charlotte (3-2), which missed 12 of 20 free throws to slow a late comeback attempt.
"This came down to some pretty basic fundamental things: blocking out and shooting free throws," Aston said. "They were on the better end of both of those subjects. That was the difference in the game, no question."
Holmes hit a 3-pointer and had a three-point play in an 8-0 run just after halftime to put Charlotte ahead 38-30. Christmas responded with a 3-pointer, layup and two free throws in a spurt that put Duke on top 48-40 with 9:36 to go.
The Blue Devils, who had not won by fewer than 13 points in their first five games and were coming off a 93-55 thrashing of Pittsburgh on Wednesday, found themselves in a surprisingly deep hole.
Three days after scoring a career-high 15 points against Pittsburgh, Shay Selby started ahead of Chloe Wells. But the new lineup struggled early.
Charlotte started 6 of 7 from 3-point range while Duke missed 15 its first 18 shots. McCallie's early timeout didn't do any good as the 49ers led 14-2 and 22-7 before Duke turned to a smothering trapping zone defense.
With Charlotte's looks not as open on the outside and with Krystal Thomas gobbling up shots in the lane, Duke held the 49ers without a field goal for nearly 10 minutes in a 21-3 run before McCallum's 3 tied it at 28 at halftime.
Charlotte, which reached the WNIT last season, shot just 31 percent from the field and was outrebounded 55-50.
"We didn't come out with the defensive intensity that we pride ourselves in most games," Krystal Thomas said. "It took some time but we finished it out."