In its first-ever visit to Hank McCamish Pavilion, No. 5 Duke seemed right at home, leading wire-to-wire in a 68-51 victory against Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils raced out to a double-digit lead in the first half thanks to seven 3-pointers and never looked back.
Rodney Hood set the tone early for the Blue Devils (21-5, 10-3 in the ACC), drilling his first two attempts from beyond the arc as Duke sprinted to a 12-3 advantage. After shooting just 5-of-24 from distance in Saturday's win against Maryland, the Blue Devils broke out of the mini-slump in a big way in Tuesday's opening stanza, shooting more than 70 percent for much of the first half.
"We didn't want to take them lightly, especially on the road," said Hood, who finished with 14 points. "We didn’t want to come out and pace ourselves. We wanted to come out and try and dominate from the tip. I think we did that for the most part, I think the beginning of the second half we let up a little bit. We just played great defense the whole game."
On the defensive end, the Blue Devils put aggressive ball pressure on Georgia Tech's guards, playing lockdown perimeter defense that head coach Mike Krzyzewski called "the best it's been all year." Duke limited the Yellow Jackets (13-13, 4-9) to 27 first-half points and forced five turnovers that turned into 10 Blue Devil points.
"I think our guards did a great job of pressuring and contesting, and [the Yellow Jackets] weren’t able to get into a rhythm on the offensive end," Duke senior Tyler Thornton said. "[We] just made it tough trying to go one-on-one a lot."
By getting the Yellow Jackets out of sync and pushing their guards back toward midcourt, the Blue Devils disrupted Georgia Tech's inside game as well. Center Daniel Miller was held to two points on 1-of-4 shooting, well below his season clip of 11.4 points per game.
"We thought our ball pressure and contesting was going to be a key to the ball game, and it would make it harder, make the passes longer and the vision tougher to see the post," Krzyzewski said. "That helped our big guys."
The Yellow Jackets were also stretched thin at the ball-handling positions. Senior guard Trae Golden, Georgia Tech's leading scorer at 13.4 points per game, did not start because of a nagging groin injury. He played 14 minutes in the first half but saw just three more minutes on the court after the break and finished with just two points.
Krzyzewski employed five-for-five line changes throughout the first half, rotating players in and out to both keep everyone involved and rested for the remainder of Duke's four-games-in-eight-days gauntlet. After committing three turnovers without registering a single assist against Maryland, point guard Quinn Cook was relegated to the bench in favor of Rasheed Sulaimon. When inserted into the game, the junior responded with seven points in the first half.
After the break, the Blue Devils made a concerted effort to dump the ball inside to freshman Jabari Parker, who finished the game with 16 points and 14 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season. As a team, Duke could not continue its shooting streak through the second frame, making just 7-of-24 field goals.The cold stretch allowed the Yellow Jackets to crawl back into the game, coming within 12 on a Chris Bolden free throw with 10:19 remaining. But Hood's fourth 3-pointer of the night upped the lead back to 15, and Parker converted an old-fashioned 3-point play on the next possession, giving Duke a 58-40 lead that proved insurmountable.
The Blue Devils face another quick turnaround as they must prepare for the makeup of the postponed rivalry game at North Carolina Thursday night. Krzyzewski maintained that Duke is trying to treat each game equally and pay no heed to the build-up surrounding the game in Chapel Hill and the rematch against No. 1 Syracuse at Cameron Indoor Stadium two nights later. The urgency his team showed against Georgia Tech was a step in the right direction.
"You respect every game," Krzyzewski said. "If you’re only going to do well on a Saturday night show on Broadway, your show’s not going to last very long. You’ve got the Wednesday matinee, the Friday, the Thursday. You have to do your best."