First games first for Duke

Feb. 17, 2014 @ 08:14 PM

DURHAM — No. 5 Duke is doing its best to not think of tonight’s game at Georgia Tech as the game before the big games.

The management of that mental challenge with Thursday’s game at North Carolina and Saturday’s showdown with No. 1 Syracuse is something even Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski admits is present.

“You can get ahead of yourself with the buildup that people will give to the Thursday-night game and the Saturday game,” Krzyzewski said Monday.

Before the Blue Devils (20-5, 9-3 in the ACC) can think about the trip to Chapel Hill to face their heated rival and the prospect of handing Syracuse its first loss, they must take care of things at Georgia Tech tonight (9 p.m., WRAL).

Unlike the Tar Heels and Orange, who reside with Duke and No. 14 Virginia among the ACC’s top four teams, Georgia Tech (13-12, 4-8) is simply striving to avoid playing with the rest of the league’s bottom teams on the first day of the ACC Tournament next month.

Duke manhandled the Yellow Jackets 79-57 at Cameron Indoor Stadium last month in their first meeting of the season. This is the first time Duke is playing the same opponent for a second time this season.

Krzyzewski need only point to last Saturday’s narrow 69-67 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium over a mediocre Maryland team to show that his team needs to be sharp. Duke shot just 33 percent in the game, including a season low 20.8 percent (5 of 24) on 3-pointers, against the Terrapins (14-12, 6-7).

Because poor shooting nights can happen even to a team like Duke that has shot 47 percent for the season while scoring an ACC-best 81.7 points per game, attention to detail against all teams is important.

“You can have a tendency of not giving each game its value of emotion,” Krzyzewski said.

Georgia Tech played last Thursday night without its leading scorer, Trae Golden, but still found a way to beat Boston College 74-71 in Atlanta. Yellow Jackets coach Brian Gregory said Monday that Golden is considered questionable for tonight’s game at McCamish Pavilion.

Georgia Tech does have another important player back from injury. Robert Carter, Jr., a 6-8 forward, missed 10 games following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. He was averaging 9.3 rebounds a game when he was sidelined and missed the first game with Duke. Carter scored 10 points against Boston College last Thursday.

Duke figures to have a much better shooting night against Georgia Tech than it did against Maryland. The Blue Devils have failed to shoot 40 percent or better only three times in their 12 ACC games.

Mostly, though, the Blue Devils will focus on keeping a mental edge.

“These next few days, we just have to take care of our bodies, focus on one game at a time, not look ahead, and just really get our reps,” Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. “This coming week is really going to be a big week for our program.”