The young Blue Devils were dealt a harsh dose of reality in their ACC opener Saturday as an upset-minded and vengeful Virginia Tech squad came into Cameron Indoor Stadium and knocked off the then-No. 5 Blue Devils.
Now, after falling to No. 11 in this week's Associated Press poll following the loss, Duke (13-2, 0-1 in the ACC) hopes its first true road game of the year-at 7 p.m. tonight at Georgia Tech (11-4, 0-2)-is the elixir to help heal the wounds exposed by Saturday's loss.
"We're real hungry," freshman guard Jon Scheyer said. "Losing is not something that's acceptable.... We've come back and had two really good days of practice, and we're going to come out focused and ready Wednesday."
Through the first two months of the season, the Blue Devils played 12 home games and three in neutral venues. In Kansas City, Duke beat Air Force Nov. 20 before dropping its first game of the year in the semifinals and finals of the CBE Classic the next day. On Dec. 21, Duke pulled away from Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden, although the crowd was markedly in support of the Blue Devils.
Both of these trips helped the Blue Devils get used to travelling and preparing for games away from their home locker room, but neither really simulated the harsh atmospeheres teams encounter on the road in the ACC.
For Scheyer and the rest of Duke's heralded freshman class, tonight's matchup will be their first taste of the road and the antagonism an opposing team's fans.
"It's kind of crazy how our first [true road game] is in January," Scheyer said. "We've played away games before, just not in a hostile arena like we're going to play in [tonight]. It doesn't bother me-people yelling or chanting at me. We're just going to have to stay real tight as a team and not let anyone get into our heads."
Last year, road crowds focused their attention on J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams. It remains to be seen how Duke will be received this year, but the Blue Devils know they must block out the distractions if they expect to win their first league game of the year.
"You can't get caught up in being home or away," Josh McRoberts said. "All these younger guys have played in big games away from home. We haven't played a true road game, but we have played three games on the road. So I expect it to be fine.
"You have to be more focused on Georgia Tech-they're a really good team. We have to go down there and do what we have to do to get a win and not worry about those outside things," McRoberts added.
In the Yellow Jackets, the Blue Devils will face a squad that has a bevy of young talent but has yet to fully gel. Georgia Tech has one of the strongest freshman classes in the country, led by 6-foot-8 forward Thaddeus Young and 6-foot-5 point guard Javaris Crittenton.
The Yellow Jackets began the season strong, reaching the finals of the Maui Invitational before losing to No. 3 UCLA. More recently, however, they lost their first two conference matchups to Miami and Clemson, the last remaining undefeated team in Division I.
Despite the setbacks, Georgia Tech's size in the backcourt and athleticism on the front line will challenge a Duke team that is also still trying to find its identity.
"Just knowing our team, I don't think anybody is going to go down there scared," McRoberts said. "We're all going to be excited to go."
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.