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Blue Devils' defense sparks transition offense

The first time Duke played Georgia Tech this season, the Blue Devils forced a season-high 28 turnovers. That type of defensive performance usually guarantees that Duke would have run away with a win.

Not quite.

The Blue Devils scored only 24 points off the Yellow Jacket miscues Jan. 10, and Georgia Tech stole a 74-63 win in Atlanta.

Sunday's game, however, was a whole different story. Duke nearly matched that output in the first half alone. The Blue Devils had 23 of their 35 points off turnovers over the first 20 minutes to help build an insurmountable 15-point halftime lead. They finished the game having forced 22 turnovers, 15 of which came on steals.

"Our guys did a great job of forcing turnovers and turning them into points," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Each team had a hard time scoring against the other team's halfcourt defense."

By pushing the ball, Duke scored in transition and also helped create situations in which the Yellow Jacket defense could not get itself set.

Georgia Tech head coach Paul Hewitt said his players could not match the aggressiveness shown by the Blue Devils during the first 20 minutes.

"If it was a fight, they would have stopped it," Hewitt said. "They were just battling, and we didn't do anything to respond."

With Duke holding on to a 21-17 lead with less than seven minutes remaining in the opening half, Jon Scheyer recorded one of his five steals and hit DeMarcus Nelson on the break for a dunk.

After the two teams traded baskets in the paint, Nelson stole the ball from Anthony Morrow and started on another break. Although Scheyer missed his initial layup, he tipped in his own shot to extend the lead to eight and summon the crowd to its feet.

"We're doing a better job in transition-that's a big thing for us," freshman Lance Thomas said. "We turned them over less but scored more in transition off their turnovers. Little things like that are helping our team progress."

For a Duke squad that ranks last in the ACC in points per game and has struggled to find an offensive identity at times during the season, any easy baskets are welcome.

And for the second straight game, Duke has been able to turn its defense into offensive production.

Against Boston College Feb. 14, Duke scored 28 points on 19 turnovers and many of them came on run-out dunks and layups. On several occasions in that game, the Blue Devils had five-on-one and four-on-one fast-break situations that resulted in easy points.

"[Greg Paulus is] making sure he comes to the ball and leads us in the break, and everyone runs their lanes and just gets easy points like that," Thomas said.

Contrast these past two games with Duke's recent four-game skid-a stretch during which the Blue Devils were averaging less than 15 points per game off turnovers-and it's no surprise that Duke has been able to jump out to early leads.

Duke has been forcing turnovers in positions where it can attack.

Earlier in the season, when the Blue Devils were struggling with turnover problems of their own, Krzyzewski said his own team was helping to start its opponent's fast breaks. As of late, though, Duke has victimized the Eagles and Yellow Jackets for doing just that.

"We had two very bad turnovers that were baseline drives that we threw back up to the top of the key, and those are very easy to pick off and turn into dunks and get some momentum," Hewitt said.

Without an established go-to scorer that the Blue Devils can rely on down the stretch, Duke will need to continue to jump out into passing lanes and convert turnovers into baskets. If the Blue Devils can build early leads, their defense should be good enough to close out victories down the stretch.

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