ATLANTA Halfway through a stretch of four games in eight days, Duke looked fresh enough Tuesday night, turning in one of its better shooting nights in the 68-51 win at Georgia Tech.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski had stressed to his team focusing on each game individually and not looking at the games as a group – otherwise, the temptation to look ahead to Thursday night at North Carolina and Saturday’s rematch with Syracuse might have been unbearable, allowing the Yellow Jackets the opportunity to deliver a stinging defeat.
“You respect every game,” Krzyzewski said during his postgame press conference. “If you’re only going to do well on a Saturday night show on Broadway, your show is not going to last very long. You’ve got the Wednesday matinee, the Friday, the Thursday, you have to do your best.”
The No. 5 Blue Devils (21-5, 10-3 ACC) showed no signs of fatigue from Saturday’s emotional, come-from-behind against Maryland, with seemingly all their focus honed in on the Yellow Jackets (13-13, 4-9). After finishing against the Terrapins with their worst shooting half, the Blue Devils opened against Georgia Tech by making 58.6 percent of their attempts from the field (17 of 29) and 63.6 percent of their 3s (7 of 11).
The lineup changes, with five new Blue Devils taking the floor at once, were back, which was a strategy Krzyzewski first deployed after realizing his team was wearing down in losses to Notre Dame and Clemson.
“We want to make sure that everyone on our team knows that they’re important,” Krzyzewski said. “You can get into playing seven or eight guys, and a kid might lose his confidence, think you don’t have confidence in him, so we told them, after the Maryland game, just be ready.
“And it kept us a little bit fresher.”
Duke’s starting five – Rasheed Sulaimon, Tyler Thornton, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson – raced out to a 12-3 lead, forcing Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory to burn an early timeout. After the break, the second five came in – Quinn Cook, Matt Jones, Andre Dawkins, Josh Hairston and Marshall Plumlee – entered and briefly let the Yellow Jackets on a 5-0 run.
Duke, though, didn’t miss back-to-back shots until there were just 4 minutes, 39 seconds left in the first half, getting more than enough offense along the way to keep a healthy lead throughout the half.
The Blue Devils significantly cooled shooting in the second half, but, thanks to a 50-30 advantage with 15:54 left, the fact that Duke went nearly 6 minutes between field goals at one point didn’t affect the result. The Yellow Jackets never closed the deficit to fewer than 12 points, even with Duke shooting 29.2 percent in the final 20 minutes.
That’s also a testament to Duke’s defensive effort – the Blue Devils held the Yellow Jackets to a 39.1-percent mark from the field, allowing 26 points in the paint, matching the total Duke scored at the other end. Yellow Jackets’ center Daniel Miller – who scored 14 points in the first meeting of the two teams – was held to just two points on 1-of-4 shooting, as Duke’s defenders limited his touches. The Blue Devils’ pressure on the Yellow Jackets’ perimeter helped, too.
“Part of playing post defense, a lot of times, is what you do on the perimeter,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s what made Jay Bilas a starter for us. He had (Tommy) Amaker, (David) Henderson and (Johnny) Dawkins playing defense out there, so he was never exposed inside.”
Parker recorded his ninth double-double on the year with 16 points (6-for-12 shooting, no 3-point attempts) and 14 rebounds. Hood also added 14 points, shooting 4-for-6 from behind the arc.
Now the Blue Devils can turn their focus to UNC, as the game that was postponed last Wednesday by snow is finally set to be played Thursday at 9 p.m.
“We’re looking at every one of our games as a must-win,” Sulaimon said. “We’re playing angry each and every game, and no matter who we play, we’re going to play the same and prepare the same way.”
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