ATLANTA—The Blue Devils hit the road again looking to avoid falling 0-3 in conference play—their worst start in the ACC since the 1992-93 season.
But poor shooting haunted Duke yet again, putting the Blue Devils in a deep conference hole.
Despite a late surge, Duke was unable to overcome Georgia Tech and fell to the Yellow Jackets 70-64 at McCamish Pavilion Thursday night. The game marked only the third loss for the Blue Devils to Georgia Tech in the teams’ past 42 meetings. The Yellow Jackets out-rebounded Duke 45-33, including 15 offensive boards to the Blue Devils’ 11. Duke also did not convert from the free-throw line until the final quarter of the game, finishing 3-for-7 from the charity stripe compared to Georgia Tech’s 12-for-21 mark.
“If you consider that only two players on our team have ever played on this court, there are a lot of young folks getting experience,” Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “Obviously there are some things we’d like to do better. One is to get to the free throw line more.... We have got to rebound better from every position. We’ve got to go after the ball more. Those rebounds hurt us—gave us a deficit, and we had to fight back like crazy.”
With the announcements of the transfer of sophomore Madison Treece and the ineligibility of freshman guard Rayah Craig for the spring semester, Duke was forced to switch up its lineup. Onome Akinbode-James started the game in the place of senior Faith Suggs. The Blue Devils also put in graduate student Sofia Roma early in the match-up, with the Wagner transfer getting a Duke career-high 17 minutes of playing time.
“I don’t think anyone in this league has had the challenges we’ve had at the start,” McCallie said. “Our players have to know that. You become emboldened. You become hardened. It can’t matter where we play.”
The Blue Devils benefited early from the Yellow Jackets’ shooting difficulties, as Georgia Tech went 0-for-9 from the field in the first four minutes of the game. However, Duke struggled to adjust as the Yellow Jackets began to hit shots, particularly when freshman Elizabeth Dixon found success in the paint for the home team. Dixon was 7-of-7 from the field with 15 points and had tallied a double-double with 10 rebounds before the second half began.
The Yellow Jackets' freshmen stole the spotlight for the remainder of the game, with Dixon and Elizabeth Balogun totaling 38 points. Balogun hit the first triple of the game in the first quarter and finished with 16 points, converting 37.5 percent of her shots from beyond the arc.
Coming out in the second quarter, the Blue Devils began to gain momentum as redshirt junior Haley Gorecki hit a 3-pointer to tie it up. This was immediately equalized by Georgia Tech, and both teams began to move their game further out to the perimeter. There were eight 3-point attempts in the first five minutes of the second quarter compared to eight in the entirety of the first period.
Gorecki, who leads Duke with 17.0 points per game, picked up her third foul with more than two minutes left in the second and was forced to sit. With Gorecki on the bench, the Yellow Jackets went on a 10-2 run and entered the locker room with an 11-point lead.
“All the coaches were kind of just like, ‘relax,'” Gorecki said. “Just being able to stay in the game was important, so it was in my head...just to be able to do anything for the team, whether it was getting a deflection or doing something else rather than getting in the paint was important.”
The third quarter played out similarly, with the Blue Devils failing to come up with a solution to Georgia Tech’s strong freshmen. Gorecki continued to struggle converting in transition, and finished the game shooting only 8-of-22 from the field.
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Momentum shifted substantially for Duke in the fourth quarter, when the Blue Devils trimmed a 17-point deficit to only one point with 1:16 left due to impressive play by former ACC Rookie of the Week Miela Goodchild and Gorecki. Goodchild hit three key shots for Duke, including two from beyond the arc, to help fuel a comeback. Gorecki converted two 3-pointers and a layup as well.
The success was not enough, however, and the Yellow Jackets sealed the game from the free-throw line with a 3-point play by Balogun and three more free throws in the final 1:03. The Blue Devils missed their last four shots from the field.
“I thought our fight was great,” Gorecki said. “Knowing we can do that every single game from the get-go would be better obviously, but having seen that fight that our team gave was super good. We wanted a different outcome, but seeing that fight was awesome.”
Duke will have a week off before returning home to face Miami next Thursday.