It may not be the NCAA tournament just yet, but it is March. And this game was filled with madness for all 45 minutes.
Duke traveled to Atlanta and fell 81-77 to Georgia Tech in overtime Tuesday night in perhaps the most important matchup of both teams’ season to date, with each squad sitting on the NCAA tournament bubble entering the contest. Wendell Moore Jr. tallied 20 points on 9-of-19 shooting, and Mark Williams added another 20 points on a perfect 9-for-9 from the field, but it wasn’t enough for the Blue Devils.
“It’s been a year of almost,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “That’s about the fifth or sixth one-possession game that we’ve lost, and so you’re almost having a really good year and instead you're having a .500 year. But that’s the way the game is.”
With 1:39 remaining in overtime, Georgia Tech guard Jordan Usher found an open Moses Wright in the paint and the big man flushed it home, putting the Yellow Jackets ahead 74-68 in what proved to be the dagger.
Wright’s dunk came at the end of what was a dominant night for the big man, with the senior forward totaling 29 points and 14 rebounds on his way to completely taking over the game for the Yellow Jackets.
DJ Steward gave the Blue Devil faithful a flash of hope with a 3-pointer at the eight-second mark to cut Georgia Tech’s lead to 79-76, and with two seconds left in overtime, Duke (11-10, 9-8 in the ACC) had one last chance thanks to a sloppy Yellow Jacket inbound pass.
But Steward was unable to hit this three, sealing the deal on the Blue Devils' second straight overtime loss to an NCAA tournament bubble team.
Despite Steward providing some late offense, he and fellow freshman Jeremy Roach were virtually nonfactors all game, combining for just 11 points and six turnovers.
“We’re just not getting any production at all from our perimeter, from our guards. That’s the second game in a row where they’ve had a tough time against veteran guards,” Krzyzewski said. “Alvarado obviously is outstanding and Devoe, but even Parham—they’re older guys and they knocked our young perimeter back.”
Georgia Tech guard Jose Alvarado played well below his typical standard, finishing with a mere 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting, but his six points in overtime made up for the lack of offense earlier in the night.
Williams started the extra period off with a slam dunk to give the Blue Devils a slight edge, but those would be the only Duke points for almost two minutes. Georgia Tech (14-8, 10-6) went on to score six straight points, and the Blue Devils never regained the lead.
Coming out of a timeout with six seconds left in regulation, Duke was faced with the difficult task of finding the right person to take its last shot, since Matthew Hurt had fouled out. Jordan Goldwire pushed the ball down the court and found an open Jaemyn Brakefield in the corner, but Brakefield missed left and sent the game to overtime with the score tied at 64.
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The Blue Devils trailed 64-56 with just under five minutes left in regulation, but then went on an 8-0 run sparked by a Goldwire layup and six consecutive points from Joey Baker. Baker had not scored a single point until the 2:21 mark, but he could not have picked a better time to find his stroke.
“These kids have fought all year. They have never given up, and again you have a unit that you don’t really practice that much with and they’re in there and they figure out a way where really you could win,” Krzyzewski said. “You got a great shot there and that would have been unbelievable. This group just hasn’t had anything unbelievable happen for them, but they’ve continued to work hard and compete, so they’ve been a good group.”
At the 8:26 mark in the second half, Hurt made what looked to be an and-one for the Blue Devils. But the foul turned out to be on him and instead of a momentum-shifting score in Duke’s favor, the play turned into the sophomore forward’s fourth personal foul.
Then, with just over six minutes left in regulation, Hurt fouled out of the game, forcing Duke to proceed down the stretch without its ACC Player of the Year candidate.
“It’s definitely next man up mentality,” Williams said. “Even though Matt fouled out the game, every timeout he’s still talking to us, trying to keep us positive, keep us engaged.”
Moore took over in the first half for the visitors, notching 16 of his 20 points in the opening period en route to a 34-31 Blue Devil lead entering the break. However, similar to the rest of the Duke offense, he quieted down over the final stretch.
After an emotional game, Duke will prepare for its second matchup with North Carolina next Saturday to close out the regular season.