Duke has relied upon the 3-point shot all season, but it was killer defense that pushed the Blue Devils past Georgia Tech despite their worst showing from behind the arc all season.
Duke forced 20 turnovers, and the Yellow Jackets (11-15, 4-8 in the ACC) recorded just three assists as the No. 7 Blue Devils (24-3, 11-2) overcame 2-for-15 shooting from long range to defeat Georgia Tech 71-58 in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
"It was a man's game tonight," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It was tough to make passes let alone make shots. I thought it was one of the best defensive performances our team has had all year."
Duke harassed the Yellow Jackets on the perimeter, turning 14 steals into 17 points while denying Georgia Tech's guards the ability to penetrate and create or dish down low. Yellow Jackets' leading scorer Anthony Morrow-averaging 14.3 points per game before Wednesday night-was held scoreless for the first 27 minutes while Georgia Tech failed to get to the free-throw line until 9:34 remained in the game.
Unlike in Duke's back-to-back losses to Wake Forest and Miami, in which the Blue Devils surrendered an average of 91 points, Duke's defense held the Yellow Jackets to their lowest scoring output of the year-19 points below their season average-allowing themselves to come away with a win despite their poor shooting.
"Our defense hasn't been good in our last two losses, so for us tonight it was a really big key to come out defensively and really try to lock them down," sophomore Jon Scheyer said. "Getting out in the passing lanes and creating turnovers is a huge thing.... We're not always going to be able to pull down rebounds, but we need to make scrappy plays like that."
Duke had difficulty convert of offensive opportunities in the first half, as the Blue Devils shot 35 percent from the field and hit 1-of-11 3-pointers. Depite a 10-0 run sealed by Gerald Henderson's rim-rocking, putback dunk with 4:42 remaining in the period, Duke led by just six at halftime.
The Blue Devils' stayed ahead in the second half behind 15-point performances from DeMarcus Nelson and Henderson, who played strong around the rim as the Blue Devils capitalized on the Yellow Jackets' physical play by converting 21-of-30 free throws. But despite several jarring Henderson dunks, including one on a back-door pass from Nelson that put the Blue Devils up by double digits for good with 2:04 remaining, Duke could not hit the back-breaking three that has become the team's staple throughout much of the season.
Krzyzewski attributed his team's difficulties from behind the arc-where they have converted 38.4 percent of their opportunities this season-to Georgia Tech's tenacious on-the-ball defense and ability to slide to cover the shooter.
"Our window of opportunity to shoot the three was small," Krzyzewski said. "We had to get it and get rid of it quick because they were out there, and when you're playing a physical game like this, it takes your legs out a little bit. I think both teams suffered from that, you're not just shooting in the driveway tonight."
Duke's win was Krzyzewski's 799th as a head coach. The Blue Devils will try to make him the sixth head coach in men's basketball history to record 800 wins Saturday at N.C. State.
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