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Duke men's basketball displays resiliency in scratching out win against Georgia Tech

Freshman AJ Griffin posted 12 points and six rebounds coming off the bench against Georgia Tech.
Freshman AJ Griffin posted 12 points and six rebounds coming off the bench against Georgia Tech.

The past three and a half weeks were winter break for Duke students everywhere. Undergraduates flocked back to various homes across the nation while the men’s basketball team stayed right in Durham to commence ACC play. 

That is, until COVID-19 was detected within the program, postponing the team’s second and third scheduled conference games against Clemson and Notre Dame, respectively. Duke had one practice since Dec. 27 before it faced off against Georgia Tech on Tuesday night. 

“It’s good to be back,” said head coach Mike Krzyzewski. 

Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, their lack of recent practice was evident throughout the game. In the first minute of the game, Duke missed four shots before freshman Paolo Banchero scored a layup. The team’s play in the first five minutes could be described as frantic, at best. Both passes and shots were sloppy and while the team was holding it together on defense, it did not look like the same team that came back from a halftime deficit against Virginia Tech Dec. 22. 

“We just have to start building again. It’s very unusual and I’ve never gone through anything like this,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s a big thing. We’re not close to the team we were before the break. But we can be. We’ve just got to keep going.”

Duke certainly started that process of building again as the game went on, getting its legs back under itself closer to the end of the first half and into the second. Sophomore Mark Williams had nine clutch rebounds and two energy-shifting dunks in the opening 20 minutes that seemed to really give the Devils some of their spirit back, especially as the crowd reacted uproariously to his shots. 

Georgia Tech was all over Duke, putting the Blue Devils at the free-throw line 40 times the whole game. Duke only sank 26 of those and Banchero went 9-for-16 from the charity stripe, despite shooting 82% from the line before Tuesday’s game. 

“Not having our legs, we were pretty fatigued,” said Banchero. “It’s hard being in a hotel room. They gave us resistance bands to keep us loose, stretching, but in terms of running we really couldn’t do much.”

One thing the Blue Devils were able to hold on to in their messy first half was their defense. Wendell Moore Jr. was able to stop Georgia Tech’s Michael Devoe from attacking the rim, as his only successful shot was a 3-pointer late in the half. Duke played a good, clean game, regardless of how fatigued it was. It only fouled 14 times in the whole game compared to Georgia Tech’s 27. 

On the other end of the court, the Yellow Jackets took advantage of Duke’s fatigue and stopped the Blue Devils from successfully scoring in the paint by using their big men. 

“We weren’t able to finish inside. We had it there seven or eight times, and [Jordan] Meka and all of them did a really good job protecting the basket,” Krzyzewski said of the team’s inability to score down low. “When you’re not at peak shape and you change those defenses, they can really stand you up.”

Duke will focus on becoming the team it was before its extended break throughout the rest of the season. With a strong starting lineup—the same one that’s been played in each of the 13 games thus far in the season—and a deep bench, Krzyzewski and his staff have a lot of talent to tap into and develop, even with setbacks such as the one they just faced. Still the only ranked ACC team, the Blue Devils should be able to dominate conference play. 

“We don’t get caught up in the comments people make. Who’s number two or number four, they really don’t mean a thing,” said Krzyzewski. “The main thing is to be good and to get through the year healthy and to qualify for the tournament.”

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