No Blue Devil on the current roster has ever experienced back-to-back losses during the regular season.
After its first loss this season Saturday, No. 3 Duke (15-1, 2-1 in the ACC) will need to bounce back against Georgia Tech tonight at 9 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium to ensure this record remains true.
Without senior Ryan Kelly—sidelined indefinitely with a foot injury—the Blue Devils showed their mortality Saturday and are no longer undefeated. The Yellow Jackets (10-5, 0-3), looking for their first conference win, will look to capitalize on a Duke team that is still adjusting to missing a regular starter.
“It’s a lot easier to get ready, get pumped for the game playing such a high-caliber team as Duke,” Georgia Tech center Daniel Miller said. “It’s something we look forward throughout the season, and something we prepare for during the off-season.”
Stepping into Kelly’s place on Saturday were junior Josh Hairston and freshman Amile Jefferson. The two combined for 18 points in the loss to the Wolfpack, but could not keep N.C. State’s C.J. Leslie quiet during the contest.
Although the Yellow Jackets will not offer the same offensive threat inside, it will be interesting to see how head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the coaching staff allocate Kelly’s minutes in this contest.
“Well, I’m not sure you ever recapture that completely,” Krzyzewski said in his Monday ACC teleconference. “Ryan is one of the best players, and so you can’t ask somebody to just try to do what he does. Your team has to develop a little bit different personality.”
Duke was also fortunate not to lose guard Seth Curry to a long-term injury after he left Saturday’s game late in the second half. Krzyzewski said Curry suffered a slight ankle sprain and will play against Georgia Tech.
Curry’s status boosts the Blue Devils, especially with freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon struggling recently. Sulaimon went 0-for-10 against the Wolfpack.
“I think it can happen more with freshmen,” Krzyzewski said. “Since coming back from Christmas, he really hasn’t played that well in all aspects of the game. He’s been okay, but he hasn’t come close to playing the way he was, and sometimes, especially a younger player, if the ball is not going in, it can have an adverse effect on other aspects of your game, and that might be what’s happening with him.”
The Yellow Jackets are facing an injury concern of their own with senior guard Mfon Udofia still recovering from a knock he received against Illinois in late November. Georgia Tech head coach Brian Gregory said that even though Udofia can play, he does not believe Udofia is fully fit and lacks some of his explosiveness.
While N.C. State leads the conference in field goal percentage, the Yellow Jackets have the lowest. Despite this, Georgia Tech is third in the league in scoring defense, allowing opponents just 57.1 points per game.
The Yellow Jackets are also a good rebounding team, outrebounding their opponents by almost three boards a game, good for fourth in the ACC.
“In this league you’d better respect everybody you play because everybody has got great players,” Gregory said in his teleconference. “But we also want to get to a point where that respect is a healthy respect, but we go out there and try to play Georgia Tech basketball. And that’s defend better, that’s rebound better, which is a key for us, and that’s when the opportunity comes, and we’d like it to come more often, to really push the ball and share the ball.”
Both teams are coming off losses from the weekend, something Gregory says will not affect the game at all. Georgia Tech squandered an 11-point lead to fall to Virginia Tech in overtime.
“Great challenge on Thursday. Play against not only one of the best teams in our conference but one of the best teams in the country,” Gregory said. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve come off 20 wins or 10 losses, it’s hard to play in Durham.”
Most importantly, Miller said, it is essential that the Yellow Jackets stay focused against a Duke team looking to avoid a second consecutive loss.
He stressed the difficulty of playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium as a factor, especially for a young team with only one senior on the roster.
“It’s a shocking atmosphere the first time you’re there [in Cameron],” Miller said. “We’ve had a few games like that so far. N.C. State was a pretty crowded arena, and that place was pretty loud. But it’s nothing like Duke. We know we’ve got to be even more focused and not let the little things distract us. Duke’s probably going to come out trying to avenge that loss, so if anything that’s going to put us in a pretty bad spot.”