The finish wasn’t pretty, but Duke – minus Marvin Bagley III – got the job done, beating Georgia Tech to snap a two-game losing streak.
The Blue Devils, without Bagley, their leading scorer who missed the game with a right knee sprain, held off a second-half comeback by the Yellow Jackets for the 80-69 win Sunday at McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta.
Earlier Sunday, the NCAA Selection Committee predicted Duke (20-5, 8-4 ACC) to be a No. 2 seed in the tournament.
Against Georgia Tech, the Blue Devils played well in the first half and led by 17 points. They extended their lead to 25, before Georgia Tech cut the lead to 10 points twice.
Here are five observations from the game:
1. Grayson Allen
With Bagley, the freshman forward, out, senior guard Grayson Allen had to be aggressive. He started the game at point guard, but still scored 10 of Duke’s first 16 points against Georgia Tech.
Allen finished with a team-high 23 points and 6 assists. It was the first time he led his team in scoring since Dec. 2, when he scored 25 in a 96-80 win over South Dakota.
It was far from the type of performance he put up against then-No. 2 Michigan State on Nov. 14, when he scored a career-high 37 points. But when Duke needed him against Georgia Tech, he came through.
2. A new lineup
Prior to Sunday’s game, Duke had used only one starting lineup for all 24 games: Bagley, Allen, freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr., freshman guard Gary Trent Jr. and freshman guard Trevon Duval.
With Bagley out, sophomore center Marques Bolden filled in. But Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski also made another change to the lineup: freshman guard Alex O’Connell started instead of Duval. Duval has struggled in recent games with turnovers in crucial moments.
Krzyzewski did not say why he made the change, and he didn’t indicate whether he would stay with O’Connell in the lineup over Duval.
He said Duval played his best game in a couple of weeks on Sunday.
“He really hit the biggest shot of the game because it got down to 12 a little under seven (minutes),” Krzyzewski said.
That shot came when Georgia Tech was attempting its comeback. Krzyzewski called a timeout after Georgia Tech reduced Duke’s lead to 12. After the timeout, Allen found an open Duval in the corner for a 3-pointer that slowed Georgia Tech’s momentum.
3. Bagley’s injury
Bagley missed the game against Georgia Tech as a “precautionary measure,” Duke said. He suffered a mild right knee sprain in Duke’s 82-78 loss at UNC on Feb. 8.
In that game, Bagley played 39 of the 40 total minutes and had 15 points and 16 rebounds.
Barring any setbacks, Bagley will likely play on Wednesday when Duke plays Virginia Tech at home.
4. Defensive rebounding problems
Georgia Tech joined a recent group of teams that has had success rebounding its own misses against Duke.
During the first half on Sunday, Georgia Tech grabbed only four offensive rebounds. But after halftime, Duke just couldn’t seem to keep Georgia Tech off the glass.
The Yellow Jackets grabbed 12 offensive rebounds in the second half. Their 16 total offensive rebounds led to 16 second chance points, including a few put-back dunks.
Duke has been a slightly below average team this season in defensive rebounding. And recently it has gotten worse. UNC grabbed 20 offensive rebounds against Duke and won that game 82-78. St. John’s beat Duke 81-77, after grabbing 16 offensive rebounds.
After trailing by 25, Georgia Tech started to capitalize off its offensive rebounds and Duke’s turnovers.
Fortunately for Duke, the lead it built earlier in the game was too big for Georgia Tech to overcome.
5. Bolden’s injury
Bolden suffered an MCL sprain in a practice prior to Duke’s Jan. 6 game at N.C. State. He missed the next seven games. He played well Sunday, though, when he filled in for Bagley. He scored 8 points and grabbing 6 rebounds in 25 minutes. Bolden is still playing with a knee brace.
“He played 25 minutes tonight, but his best minutes were early,” Krzyzewski said. “He should be a great sub for Wendell (Carter) and Marvin (Bagley) and play somewhere between 15 and 18 minutes and play it really hard and run and whatever.”