ATLANTA—In an ACC opener that was meant to be an introduction of the preseason favorites, the Blue Devils continued their unbecoming start with a loss on the road against Georgia Tech. Yellow Jacket faithful stormed the court and celebrated the massive upset, while Duke made its way wearily to the locker room.
The seventh-ranked Blue Devils, without starting point guard Tyrese Proctor for the majority of the game, were uncomfortable and in disarray, continuing their shooting woes in the 72-68 loss to the Yellow Jackets. The team finished just 26-for-62 from the field, despite a 20-point performance from senior guard Jeremy Roach.
“We have to do a better job starting with the game. We didn't start off well, so the entire day we're fighting and clawing our way back,” head coach Jon Scheyer said after the game. “This is for our team — we have a week of practice — we’ve gotta stick together, we’ve gotta get together even closer.”
Despite trailing for the majority of the game, Duke (5-3, 0-1 in the ACC) had the ball with 18.2 seconds left, down by two with a chance to either tie the game or take the lead. After Roach nearly traveled, Scheyer spent another time out.
This time with just 5.9 seconds left, Roach again was unable to get a good look, heaving an unsuccessful shot up and sealing the loss.
As the game clock ticked under one minute, sophomore forward Mark Mitchell — with a chance to give Duke the lead — lost the ball and dove to the floor. The possession arrow favored the Yellow Jackets (4-2, 1-0), who capitalized on their possession with an alley-oop to freshman forward Baye Ndongo.
Another Blue Devil turnover, this time from Roach, gave the ball back to Georgia Tech. With just two seconds separating the shot clock and the game clock, Scheyer opted to foul, sending freshman guard Nathan George to the line.
George missed the front end, and gave new life to Duke.
With the game knotted at 62 with under three minutes to go, Mitchell — who came off the bench Saturday for the first time in his Duke career — rose for a massive and-one dunk. While he missed the free throw, sophomore center Kyle Filipowski tipped out the ball for an offensive board, leading to another Mitchell slam.
However, Mitchell pointed at his defender and was called for a technical foul, souring a bright Blue Devil moment. The two sides continued to trade buckets and the game remained even.
A corner three from freshman guard Caleb Foster with 5:48 left brought Duke back within two, and after a long defensive stop, Scheyer regrouped his team with a chance to take its first lead since the score was 23-21 with 6:58 to play in the first half.
Foster then drew a foul on a baseline jumper, but the freshman missed both free throws in the face of the Georgia Tech student section. After two offensive rebounds, Filipowski got his own chance at the charity stripe, and this time he converted both.
After a response from the Yellow Jackets, Roach knocked in two more foul shots to keep the score even.
Duke, who trailed for the first 12 minutes of the second half, finally got a chance to regain control of the lead after a 7-0 run brought the team back within three. An intercepted pass from Roach set up a potential game-tying possession, but the Blue Devils could not convert.
Instead, Ndongo exploded for an emphatic slam and flipped momentum. The dunk reaggravated Ndongo’s ankle, though, and forced him to exit the game for the second time.
“It's hard when you out shoot a team by nine; we got nine more shots. We have seven more free throws,” Scheyer said. “We missed some easy ones, but our defense should have put us in a better position [to win].”
After a sloppy first half from the Blue Devils in which they shot just 37.1% from the field, it was the Yellow Jackets who came out of the gates in the second period with a punch. A triple on its first possession, a physical and-one by Ndongo and a monster dunk from senior center Ebenezer Dowouna stretched Georgia Tech’s four-point halftime lead into double-digits.
While the Yellow Jackets connected on their first three shots from the field in the second half, Duke started just 3-of-10. Still, the Blue Devils entered the first media timeout of the second half trailing by just six, as their sheer athletic advantage kept Georgia Tech from pulling away for a significant period.
While Duke was not efficient by any means, its 13 offensive rebounds gave players second and even third chances.
The Blue Devils had a chance to bring the game within two coming out of the second-half under-12 media timeout, as freshman guard Jared McCain took a wide-open 3-point attempt. However, a miss led to a six-point swing, as Georgia Tech’s Dallan Coleman converted a difficult and-one.
A missed transition opportunity nearly led to another and-one, and the Yellow Jackets converted both free throws to build their lead back to 10. However, on the play, Ndongo — Georgia Tech’s leading scorer to that point — went down hard and was forced to come out of the game. Without Ndongo, the Yellow Jackets faced even more of a mismatch inside, sparking Duke’s 7-0 run.
Scheyer, looking to make some changes after a painful loss to Arkansas, decided to take Mitchell out of the starting lineup and instead run with graduate center Ryan Young.
The decision was overshadowed by a different early-game moment, though, as Proctor hit the deck hard after driving for a layup on the team’s second possession. Proctor received help from the training staff on the Duke bench before heading to the locker room at the first media timeout with a heavy limp. He returned to the bench just a few minutes later, but came out of the locker room in the second half on crutches and did not check back into the game.
A bad moment was made worse by another slow start from the Blue Devils, who made just one field goal in their first 10 tries. Meanwhile, Ndongo and junior guards Miles Kelly and Kowacie Reeves Jr. — who all finished the half with at least nine points — each hit a 3-pointer in the game’s first three minutes. Moreover, the Yellow Jackets had eight assists on eight made baskets to start the game, as they cut, screened and dished their way through the Blue Devils’ defense.
Duke will return to Cameron Indoor Stadium Dec. 9 as it welcomes Charlotte. The Blue Devils will not play another ACC game for another month, however, as they have four nonconference games before facing off with Syracuse Jan. 2.
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Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.