ATLANTA—For a Blue Devil team looking for answers on defense after back-to-back losses, a trip to Georgia Tech to face one of the ACC’s worst offenses was just what the doctor ordered.
No. 9 Duke scored the first nine points of the game and stretched its lead to 26 points before wrapping up a 80-69 victory against the Yellow Jackets at McCamish Pavilion for its first win of February. Georgia Tech shot just 33.3 percent from the field and had trouble finding holes in the Blue Devil zone to feed star center Ben Lammers, even with Duke freshman big man Marvin Bagley III sidelined by a mild knee sprain.
"Losing two straight, three of the last four—it’s a wakeup call to our team, so we came out tonight and just gave everything, put everything out there to start the game, put everything out there to start the second half," senior captain Grayson Allen said. "We did a great job of responding to our losses."
Sophomore Marques Bolden started in place of Bagley, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski made another unexpected change to his lineup for the first time of the season with freshman guard Alex O’Connell getting his first career start in place of point guard Trevon Duval.
Regular starter Wendell Carter Jr. controlled the paint in his hometown in Bagley’s absence, swatting away four shots on defense and adding a double-double with 19 points and 10 boards. Bolden added eight points and six rebounds in a career-high 25 minutes.
"Offensively, we switched sides of the court a little bit more and get some ball-screen actions, down-screen actions," Allen said. "It’s more driving and kicking and stuff like that because when [Bagley's] in the game, you’re obviously going to give it to him, so a lot of that stuff goes away."
The Blue Devils moved the ball well to get Carter opportunities alone in the paint, and senior captain Grayson Allen dished assists to him on back-to-back possessions midway through the first half to help Duke stretch its comfortable lead to 14 points.
"Wendell is sensational. He’s a double-double [threat]—amazing kid, represents Atlanta and Pace [Academy] and his community at the highest level," Krzyzewski said. "He’s as good a kid as we’ve had at Duke and one of the really good players."
Allen also enjoyed one of his most effective games of conference play, adding a team-high 23 points to his six assists and knocking down three 3-pointers. Freshman Gary Trent Jr. joined Allen and Carter in double figures with 15 points.
On the other end, the Yellow Jackets could not solve the 2-3 zone the Blue Devils used for most of the game with Bolden manning the middle under the basket and Carter contesting shots alongside him. Georgia Tech had to resort to deep perimeter possessions on most possessions and didn’t make many of them until the final minutes.
If the Yellow Jackets had any slim hopes of a comeback facing a 17-point deficit at halftime, Duke appeared to extinguish those with an 8-0 run to open the second half and take a 51-26 lead.
But the Blue Devils faltered in the final 10 minutes, giving up several transition buckets and second-chance putbacks, as Krzyzewski used two timeouts in the middle of a 15-2 Yellow Jacket run that trimmed Duke’s lead to 12 with seven minutes left.
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Duval finally stunted the spurt with a wide-open corner triple off an assist from Allen and gave the visitors some breathing room.
"It was [Duval's] best performance in a couple weeks and he hit the biggest shot of the game," Krzyzewski said. "That was a big response, because you get it down to 12 and the world can look like it's falling apart and we got a great response from a kid that didn’t start for the first time and got the confidence from a veteran to get the ball."
Georgia Tech never seriously threatened to get back into the game the rest of way—the hosts would not get any closer than 10 down the stretch.
Duke’s three players from the Atlanta area—Carter, O’Connell and freshman Jordan Goldwire—all saw time in front of a crowd that was about half Duke fans, and they had a lot to cheer about for most of the night.
"It’s always good to be back home and play in front of my city, but at the same time, I came here thinking it was just another business trip," Carter said. "I didn’t want to grow my own head up and think I had to do something spectacular in this game. Just go out and play my game, and we got the W."
Sophomore Josh Okogie was consistent and effective for the Yellow Jackets with 29 points, but Georgia Tech took a serious hit for Sunday’s game and potentially for the rest of its season in the first half when second-leading scorer Jose Alvarado fouled Javin DeLaurier under the basket and fell to the ground hard on his left arm.
He was taken to the hospital immediately with a dislocated elbow.
The Blue Devils will now return home to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face Virginia Tech Wednesday night at 7. The Hokies pulled off a massive upset Saturday evening when they knocked off No. 2 Virginia on the road, and head coach Buzz Williams' squad is lurking just outside the ACC's top four with a shot at a double bye in next month's conference tournament.