ATLANTA—Momentum is a difficult thing to change. On Sunday, Georgia Tech walked into McCamish Pavilion on a five-game skid, looking to reverse its fortunes against Duke in the second leg of a three-game homestand. Unfortunately for the squad from Atlanta, the Blue Devils had other ideas.
After what was a slow first half, No. 16 Duke turned it around late and ended the game with a 65-47 victory against the Yellow Jackets. The Blue Devils struggled to establish themselves early, ending the first half of play down 28-27. Duke could not seem to find its stride, struggling to hold onto the ball and create shots. Some sloppy personal fouls and a whopping 10 first-half turnovers helped Georgia Tech maintain control of the game’s flow and keep the Blue Devils on their heels.
“[Georgia Tech] were 12-for-24 from the field, 50% shooting and kind of had control of the how the game was being played,” said Duke head coach Kara Lawson after the game. “Defensively, we were poor.”
Meanwhile, on offense, the Yellow Jackets were rolling. While the Duke defense managed to keep the game close, Georgia Tech seemed very much in the driver’s seat as the whistle blew at the end of the second quarter. The Blue Devils (16-1, 6-0 in the ACC), on the other hand, seemed unable to find open shots and hold onto the ball.
Whatever Lawson said to her team at halftime clearly made a difference. The Blue Devils came out of the locker room and into the third quarter with a newly stoked fire lit under them. When senior Celeste Taylor took a loose ball down the floor and dropped in the easy layup, the Yellow Jackets (9-9, 0-7) were forced to call timeout to calm things down, as they suddenly found themselves down 42-32.
For the Blue Devils, especially in the second half, the name of the game was quick transition buckets. The same full-court press that had suffocated Duke in the first half became an opportunity for quick, easy points in the second. Taylor was a force to be reckoned with on offense, scoring nine points in the third quarter alone on 4-of-4 shooting from the field. She finished with 13 points.
“I thought in the third quarter, [Taylor] willed us to that lead and took over the game,” said Lawson on the senior’s explosion.
The Yellow Jackets, on the other hand, had a sluggish third quarter. What had been 50% shooting from the field in the first half plummeted to 30.8% in the third quarter as Duke forced turnovers and turned up the pressure with its own full-court press. Taylor and graduate student Taya Corosdale alone combined for a whopping eight steals, proving themselves menaces to the Georgia Tech offensive scheme.
By midway through the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils had thoroughly established themselves, holding on to a lead that oscillated between the high-single and low-double digits. At the final media timeout with under five minutes remaining, Duke led by a score of 58-47. Georgia Tech would not score again, failing to put a single point on the board in the 4:50.
The dagger came late in the game, with just more than a minute left. When Elizabeth Balogun was fouled in the process of sinking a mid-range turnaround jumper to push the lead to 17, the game was essentially over. Some solid offensive rebounding allowed Duke to run out the clock for the final 45 seconds of the game, and the away team finished with a much larger margin of victory than it had held for most of the matchup.
“Yeah, we're gonna be down in games, we're gonna have to come back. That's going to happen. And I think our players kind of understand that and just keep pushing, keep fighting and keep trying to turn the game in our favor at some point,” said Lawson.
At the end of the day, this was a game of two halves; Duke could not seem to get itself off the ground in the first and took off in the second. The Blue Devils proved their resilience Sunday, turning up the pressure and the urgency in the latter half. As a result, they managed to avenge last year’s defeat to the Yellow Jackets and walk out of Atlanta with a victory in their pockets.
Duke will look to extend its win streak to 12 games Wednesday in a big-time rivalry matchup against North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
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