DURHAM The Blue Devils knew they would be a different team without Ryan Kelly. And against the team at the bottom of the ACC standings, it took them one half to find their flow. But once they did, they rolled to a 73-57 victory over Georgia Tech.
Duke (16-1, 3-1) trailed at the half for only the third time this season. But as soon as the second half started, the Blue Devils promptly went on a 19-4 run.
On the first play of the second half, Duke forced a Yellow Jackets miss. Rasheed Sulaimon picked up the loose-ball rebound and fed it ahead to Quinn Cook, who stopped and sank a 3-pointer to give the Blue Devils the lead.
And they never trailed again.
Mason Plumlee, who was 2-for-12 during the first half, made his first two shots in the second on a short hook and a putback around Daniel Miller. And when Plumlee did miss on the next possession, Amile Jefferson was there to grab the rebound and convert the basket for a 36-31 advantage.
And it continued for Duke. Seth Curry made a 3-pointer, and Mason Plumlee backed down Miller for a two-handed slam. Duke led 41-31, Georgia Tech called a timeout, and coach Mike Krzyzewski ran out onto the floor, jumping into Mason Plumlees arms and holding him in a bearhug.
That dunk, with 16 minutes, 4 seconds left, was Mason Plumlees 15th shot attempt of the night, a season-high. He finished 7-for-20, and 5-for-8 after halftime, for 16 points.
Curry had a game-high 24 points and shot 6-for-7 from 3-point range.
It was a complete reversal of the first half, in which Dukes offense struggled mightily and Plumlee, especially, just couldnt get shots to fall. As a team, the Blue Devils shot 27 percent from the floor, their worst mark of the season. Georgia Tech (10-5, 0-3), turned the ball over 13 times but still led 28-27 at intermission.
Duke used a new lineup, as freshman Sulaimon was a reserve for the first time. Tyler Thornton took his starting spot, and he joined Cook, Josh Hairston, Curry and Mason Plumlee. Gone was the theory that the Duke starters would play as many minutes as possible Kellys ankle injury forced that to change and, instead, the Blue Devils had used eight of their nine available players during the first 10 minutes.
At one point, the Blue Devils had four freshmen Marshall Plumlee, Alex Murphy, Jefferson and Sulaimon and Cook on the floor.
Sulaimon lost his place in the starting lineup because of a shooting slump (9-for-40 over his past five games) that had started to affect other areas of his game. But he hit his first shot of the game Thursday, a 3-pointer, and he finished 5-for-8 for 15 points. As a result of their first-half play, he and Jefferson started the second half in place of Thornton and Hairston.
Jefferson continued to look like the most viable replacement option for Kelly, who is out indefinitely with a right foot injury. He finished with 10 rebounds, a block and two steals and brought a consistent defensive energy.
Duke never stopped pushing during the second half. With about five minutes left, Curry hit an NBA-length 3-pointer. Cook collected a miss on the other end, and he passed it to a streaking Sulaimon, who laid it in with two hands to put Duke ahead 65-51. Any memories of the shaky first half were long forgotten.
Keeley 919-826-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley
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