ATLANTA—Duke had arguably its best performance of the season Saturday afternoon as it easily handled Georgia Tech on the road at McCamish Pavilion. It was a demonstration of how, despite some rocky losses early in the season and in recent years against Georgia Tech, head coach Jon Scheyer and his team understand how to make each other better after a setback.
“I have also seen with our group how we’ve gotten better,” Scheyer said after Duke beat Georgia Tech 86-43. “There’s no question we’re better than we were a month ago or two months ago. This league is really tough and can expose you, especially on the road, and I think that’s been a big adjustment for us, but my thing has really been staying present, controlling what we can, controlling getting better every day.”
Duke’s 55.7% field goal percentage was its highest of the season, with 44 of its 86 points—just more than half—coming from inside the paint. Freshman seven-footer Kyle Filipowski led Duke with 18 points, but the offensive success was a team effort in Atlanta; the Blue Devils totaled 24 assists and had scoring contributions from 10 players, with five players ending in double digits. Moving the ball around was a big focus for Duke, junior point guard Jeremy Roach said after the game, noting that Duke “got a little too stagnant” in Monday’s loss at Virginia Tech.
The Blue Devils were equally strong on the defensive end; it was “probably the best collectively on defense that [Duke has] played,” Scheyer said. Duke held Georgia Tech to only 12 points in the paint, in part due to its size advantage, with Filipowski and freshman center Dereck Lively II combining for five blocks. The team’s improved discipline was also evident in its 11 total fouls, an improvement from 18 against Virginia Tech and 17 the game before against Miami. Scheyer specifically commended Lively for “playing without his hands” and maintaining control while guarding the interior.
Lively contributed suffocating defense and shining moments on offense, including his first college trey to open his scoring and a couple of dunks later in the game, while freshman guard Tyrese Proctor also quietly had a standout night. Proctor contributed eight assists, including on Roach’s first two threes and both of Lively’s second-half dunks.
“We’re at our best when Tyrese is [passing the ball],” Scheyer said. “We have weapons on the floor, and I thought he put them in a great position to be really successful.”
And though watching film and having competitive practices helped prepare the Blue Devils for Saturday, Proctor’s court presence and unselfish style of play have also made those around him better, including Roach, Duke’s captain.
“[Roach] hasn’t had anybody necessarily make him better, and [Proctor] can do that,” Scheyer said. “And so what he’s done: distributing the ball, he competes in defense all the time—that’s an added element for us that’s made us a lot better.”
“[Sharing the ball] gives us confidence; and then when you see other people sharing the ball, it makes you want to share the ball,” Roach said after the game, adding that “when the ball is popping and everybody’s touching it, everybody feels like they’re in the game, and everybody feels like they can make a shot.”
The improved confidence was key Saturday, particularly given that Duke has struggled on the road this year. Before Georgia Tech, Duke had lost four of its five away games, and the sole victory was a 65-64 win at Boston College.
That confidence was established right at the start of the game, as Roach hit a three to open the scoring and another about a minute later, kicking off a strong first half for Duke that was lacking in recent conference losses and narrow wins. The Blue Devils remained dominant for most of the first half, but when the Yellow Jackets would close in on the lead, it was a test for the visitors: Would they falter in the first half, as they have at times this season, or keep their foot on the gas to extend the lead?
“For us, we felt like there was a really important segment because it can either be tied at half; it can be a three-, four-point game; or we can extend it. And now again, do you think it’s gonna be 18? … To push it to 18 is a big deal.” Scheyer asked, referencing Duke’s 43-25 halftime lead.
Both on paper and in terms of the confidence and support for one another that Duke brought to the floor Saturday, it was visible against Georgia Tech that this team has continued to grow and improve. But despite a game worthy of celebration, there is still more to do for Scheyer and his squad heading into Tuesday evening’s matchup against Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I believe in this group, while also at the same time understanding what it is we have to get better at,” Scheyer said.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Leah Boyd is a Pratt senior and a social chair of The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 117.