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After tough road trip, Duke men's basketball returns home to host Georgia Tech

<p>A big storyline for Duke's matchup with Georgia Tech is if Jalen Johnson and Matthew Hurt can play well together.&nbsp;</p>

A big storyline for Duke's matchup with Georgia Tech is if Jalen Johnson and Matthew Hurt can play well together. 

If two's company and three's a crowd, Duke won’t want to find out what four straight losses feels like.

The Blue Devils return home to Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday night at 9 p.m. to face off against Georgia Tech, looking to get in the win column following a winless three-game road trip.

“These guys are working hard,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And my coaching staff is working real hard. And we’re just trying to play a little bit of catch up as far as everything goes. But we're going to continue to work hard and try to get better.”

Duke (5-5, 3-3 in the ACC) has taken hit after hit since peaking at No. 6 in the AP Poll in late November. The program recently dropped off the rankings entirely for the first time since 2016 and are now in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995.

This game provides a chance for Coach K to regroup and reevaluate this Blue Devil squad. Problems have ranged from injuries, to a still-adjusting zone defense, to just simply being outmatched. While it’s easy to gloss over every last issue with the team, Krzyzewski focused on a few major points of emphasis Monday while speaking with the media, including limiting bad fouls.

“Over the last four games, we've given up about 100 free throws and shot 50,” Krzyzewski said. “And I'm not saying that we're getting messed over by officials. We have to learn how not to foul and how to get fouled…. That's one of the differences between winning and losing.”

A different, but equally crippling problem facing Duke is that two of its most valuable players, Matthew Hurt and Jalen Johnson, have been unable to play well on the same night. Every game since Johnson’s return against Virginia Tech has been a teeter-totter, in which one is up and the other is down. 

“Their games are complimentary. It's too bad they haven't had the frequency, not just in games, but in practice to develop a rhythm,” Krzyzewski said.

As Duke was battling it out with Louisville Saturday, Georgia Tech (7-4, 3-2) was giving now-No. 8 Virginia one of its toughest games of the season. Behind star performances by guards Jose Alvarado and Jordan Usher, the Yellow Jackets led by as many as 11 points before faltering down the stretch. 

After many years in the bottom half of the ACC, Georgia Tech has been no stranger to tough losses. But since head coach Josh Pastner took the helm, the program has been on the rise.

“Well, they're an old team,” Krzyzewski said of the Yellow Jackets. “Josh has kept these kids together and they've grown and they've lost and won. But they've had shared experiences of success and failure, and as a result have developed into an outstanding unit.”

On defense, Duke’s biggest concern should be locking down the perimeter. Four Yellow Jackets are shooting above a 39% clip from deep this season, and against the Cavaliers the team shot 60% from beyond the arc. Overall, Georgia Tech ranks fourth in the ACC with a 38.1% mark from downtown.

This may well be the most important game of the season for the Blue Devils. Will they let another winnable game slip through their fingers? Or will they finally put together the pieces and start to get the season back on track? Whatever the outcome is, NCAA tournament implications hang in the balance. 

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