Duke played their first game outside of the AP Top 10 since 2007 on Tuesday night. For the entire first half the drop in the polls didn't seem far enough. Duke lacked the energy and intensity they have become known for, especially in games played at Cameron Indoor, before turning it on the second half to cruise to a 79-57 victory over Georgia Tech.
The final margin doesn't begin to tell the whole story. The Blue Devils struggled both offensively and defensively in the first half. Duke allowed the Yellow Jackets to shoot 54% from the field in the first half while only managing 36% shooting on the offensive end. Contributing to Duke's offensive woes in the first half was the team's inability to get out and score in transition. The Blue Devils had 0 fast break points in the opening 20 minutes. Duke was able to capitalize on their 16 first half free throw attempts, hitting 14, to take the one point lead into the break.
The second half was a different story.
Duke was noticeably a different team coming out in the second half. Their newly found energy, most likely the result of a Coach K halftime tongue lashing, helped the Blue Devils to open the half on a 7-0 run, highlighted by a Sulaimon block that led to a Quinn Cook 3 pointer, forcing Tech to take a timeout just two minutes into the half.
Duke used back to back Rodney Hood 3's to spearhead a 12-2 run to take a 16 point lead with under 7 minutes to play. And two more Hood 3's as part of a 13-0 run in the game's closing minutes to pull away from the Yellow Jackets for good.
Hood was the best player on the court for Duke for the second game in a row. He finished with 27 points, including 5-5 from the arc in the second half, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. He shot 8-12 from the field and hit all six of his free throw attempts.
Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson returned to the starting lineup for the Blue Devils, replacing Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston. Jefferson had 6 points and 10 rebounds. Sulaimon continued his high level of play to the tune of 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. Andre Dawkins played 25 minutes, coming off the bench and scoring 10 points, most on dribble penetration and free throws, as he, uncharacteristically, only shot 1-5 from 3 point range. Quinn Cook added 13 points and 5 assists with just 1 turnover.
The offensive balance came at a great time as Jabari Parker continued to struggle. He did manage 12 points and 6 rebounds, but only shot 4-12. He picked up his fourth foul with 7:53 left to play and was a non factor for the rest of the game. Over the last 3 games, Parker is shooting 11-35 from the field.
In reality Duke should be less worried about Parker's recent struggles and more worried about the continued lack of defense, particularly in the paint. For the first half, Georgia Tech picked up where Notre Dame left off, finding lanes to the basket and little to no rim protection by Duke. Parker, Jefferson, and Hairston all struggled defensively against Tech big man Daniel Miller who had 14 points on 7-11 shooting. Marcus Georges-Hunt had 18 points and 4 rebounds. He and Miller were the only double digit scorers for the Yellow Jackets.
Despite the continued issues on the defensive end early in the game there were still some positive takeaways for Duke. The Blue Devils shot 22-25 from the free throw line. Duke also out-rebounded Georgia Tech 33-25. This was the first game this season that the Yellow Jackets didn't win the rebounding battle.
No. 16 Duke moves to 12-3 on the season, 1-1 in ACC play. Their next game will be Saturday, January 11 on the road against Clemson. The Tigers are 10-3 on the season with a 1-0 record in the ACC. They host Florida State on Thursday night.