INTO THE FIRE
The preliminaries are done and No. 5 Duke can focus squarely on the two mammoth games looming the rest of the week.
The Blue Devils were keenly focused on Georgia Tech Tuesday night at McCamish Pavilion, unleashing a torrent of offense early and stingy defense all night in a 68-51 ACC win over the Yellow Jackets.
Having shot 58 percent in the first half to lead by as many as 19 before halftime, Duke (21-5, 10-3) rolled to an easy win over mediocre Georgia Tech (13-13, 4-9).
Now Duke is set for a trip to rival North Carolina on Thursday (9 p.m., WRAL) and a showdown with No. 1 Syracuse on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN) at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Earlier this week, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said playing UNC (riding a seven-game winning streak) and Syracuse (unbeaten) within three days of each other akin to a Final Four weekend.
To ensure those games had maximum importance, Duke had to take care of Georgia Tech and the Blue Devils certainly did that.
“You have to do your best and that’s what we try to do,” Krzyzewski said. “We respect the heck out of Georgia Tech. We thought this was a game where they can beat us and they can because they are good. But they didn’t because we played well and we respected the game.”
Freshman Jabari Parker’s ACC-leading ninth double-double of the season saw him score 16 points and grab 14 rebounds. Rodney Hood (14 points) and Rasheed Sulaimon (11 points) were Duke’s other double-figure scorers.
“Our defense transitioned to our offense,” Parker said. “We were able to get stops and put us in a good situations and we got comfortable.”
Duke hit 6 of its first 8 3-pointers, and 12 of 17 shots overall, to lead 32-16.
How hot was Duke’s shooting? By the time the Blue Devils missed two shots in a row, a little more than 15 minutes into the game, they had already built a 19-point lead at 36-17.
It was the best shooting first half Duke has experienced in ACC play this season.
That crisp first half included 59 percent shooting overall, including 7 of 11 3-pointers. Duke turned the ball over just twice while handing out 10 assists.
“Guys were sharing the ball and taking strong shots,” Duke guard Quinn Cook said. “We were playing unselfishly.”
Duke’s early offense was so good that it was able to survive going scoreless for a few seconds shy of five minutes midway through the second half without surrendering its double-digit lead.
The Blue Devils cold second half saw them make only four of their first 18 shots after halftime. Still, Georgia Tech never pulled closer than 12 points.
Duke cooled off offensively the entire second half, shooting just 29.2 percent over the final 20 minutes to finish at 45.3 percent for the game.
But the Blue Devils played tenacious defense, limiting the Yellow Jackets to 39.1 percent shooting for the game. Georgia Tech turned the ball over 13 times as Duke recorded eight steals.
“They went after us on the defensive end and we didn’t respond well,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said.
Parker led Duke with three blocked shots but Krzyzewski said the smaller guys on the perimeter deserve credit for putting a crimp in what Georgia Tech could do.
“Our perimeter defense was the best that it has been all year,” Krzyzewski said.
|No. 5 DUKE 68, GEORGIA TECH 51|
Percentages: FG .453, FT .500.
3-Point Goals: 10-18, .556 (Hood 4-6, Thornton 2-2, Dawkins 2-3, Sulaimon 1-2, Cook 1-5).
Team Rebounds: 4.
Blocked Shots: 4 (Parker 3, Jones).
Turnovers: 5 (Parker 3, Sulaimon).
Steals: 8 (Thornton 2, Cook, Jones, Sulaimon, Parker, Hairston, Hood).
Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .391, FT .667.
3-Point Goals: 3-9, .333 (Carter, Jr. 2-3, Bolden 1-4, Stephens 0-1, Golden 0-1).
Team Rebounds: 3.
Blocked Shots: 3 (Miller 3).
Turnovers: 13 (Heyward 5, Carter, Jr. 3, Georges-Hunt, Golden, Miller, Poole, Jr.).
Steals: 2 (Poole, Jr., Golden).
Technical Fouls: None.
Officials_Mike Eades, Ray Natili, Gary Maxwell.