Duke isn’t more athletic than Georgia Tech, but it played like the quicker and more physical team Saturday.
The Blue Devils were stronger, especially inside, where the referees let the players bang. Duke was better in transition, beat the Yellow Jackets to loose balls and crashed the glass for more second-chance points.
Not until the final minutes, when Georgia Tech employed its full-court press and stole the ball in the backcourt on 3-of-4 possessions, did it become clear that the Yellow Jackets were actually the more athletic team and Duke just played like it was.
“We had guys everywhere today,” senior Daniel Ewing said. “We had guys on loose balls. You need games like that when people are all over the court and seem like they are more athletic than they are.”
The Yellow Jackets, who often run circles around opponents, scored only three fast-break buckets. Instead, it was the Blue Devils who scored in transition. During a key first-half stretch when Duke initially distanced itself from the Yellow Jackets, the team used steals and long rebounds to get good looks before Georgia Tech could regain its defensive bearings.
Even though Redick appeared to be the Yellow Jackets' No. 1 defensive priority, he managed to elude them in transition. Twice during this run, Redick sunk threes on the delayed break—once on a pull-up to get the spurt going and then on a step-back to give Duke a 24-14 lead. Coming out of the ensuing timeout prompted by Redick’s bucket, he raised his arms, looking at each side of Cameron Indoor Stadium and yelling “let’s go.”
Redick’s intensity, which head coach Mike Krzyzewski said was carried over from his almost-heroic ending at Wake Forest, was shared by his teammates, especially on the defensive end. Only when Duke’s defenders lost their men under the hoop several times in the first half did the Yellow Jackets get anything easy.
“With an athletic team like that, you really can’t minimize it,” freshman DeMarcus Nelson said. “You just have to play fundamental defense, and that’s what we did. We just looked to keep those guys off the boards. They go hard in transition, and we wanted to stop those things and make them a half-court team, and that’s what we did.”
Nelson and Duke’s other guards didn’t give the Yellow Jackets more than a step on the perimeter. Only experienced point guard Jarrett Jack was able to maneuver into the lane, but he sat on the bench for the final minutes of the first half in foul trouble as Duke stretched a five-point lead to nine.
But Ewing was better than even Jack at the acrobatic shots. Just over a minute into the game, the senior turned a steal into two points with a tricky shot in the paint. He continued to drive throughout the game, scooping shots around fooled defenders into the hoop on his way to 16 points.
Redick, not known for his athleticism, was able to cut through the Georgia Tech defense on several occasions, in addition to his antics from behind the arc. On the defensive end, the junior snagged four steals, a season high, and stayed with his man on the perimeter.
And the Blue Devils always seemed to have a hand on the ball. Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph combined for 11 blocks, the team poked away 10 steals and the Blue Devils dove after countless loose balls.
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“From my vantage point, I think it was a lot of loose balls that turned into clutch shots and hustle plays that allowed them to win the game today,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt said.
Duke’s transition defense, which was poor initially at Wake, vastly improved today. Krzyzewski said he could see progress that started late in the game against the Demon Deacons and continued here Saturday.
“The three teams that push it up the best in our league are Carolina, Wake and Georgia Tech, and if you don’t play against that, you can’t practice it,” Krzyzewski said. “They may have gotten one or two, but they didn’t get many in the fast break today, so that was a key. Our perimeter defense, not giving up many open looks on threes.”