For the second time this season, the No. 5 ranked Duke Blue Devils defeated the Jackets, this time at McCamish Pavilion with a score of 68-51. Earlier in the season, the Jackets travelled to Durham, N.C. and lost 79-57, but this game featured several different storylines than the last time. Robert Carter Jr. was active for this game, but Solomon Poole has been dismissed from the team. Jason Morris is out indefinitely with a foot injury and leading scorer, Trae Golden, has been suffering a lingering groin injury the past three weeks.
“[Duke] came out very focused and played with great force to start the game,” said Tech head coach Brian Gregory. “They have dramatically improved defensively from the first time we played them earlier in January. I think playing more guys, and those guys buying into playing with the pressure that they played with was key tonight. That really put us in a tough hole. We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball and do a better job of executing and getting into the offense. Defensively we got put on our heels a little bit with some of those early drives. We got in some foul trouble, and they took advantage of that by knocking down some open shots. We’ve got to re-group and get ready for Saturday afternoon.”
Duke guard Rodney Hood started the game off with a wide open three point basket and Tech sophomore Chris Bolden answered immediately on the next Jacket’s possession with a three of his own. Duke got out to an early 12-3 lead, which led Coach Gregory to call an early timeout.
Carter Jr. hit a three coming out of the time out to cut the lead to six, but on the next possession Hood buried another wide open three for Duke. Daniel Miller’s only basket of the night was a thunderous alley-oop from Golden in transition, which made it an 18-12 game. Tech was unable to sustain the momentum as they continued to leave Duke shooters wide open at the three point line and Duke made six of their first eight three-pointers to give them a 32-16 lead.
Freshman Corey Heyward, who saw no playing time in the first matchup, has been forced into the starting lineup due to dismissals and injuries. Heyward had his toughest game of the year, scoring zero points and committing five turnovers.
At halftime, Tech trailed 43-27. Kammeon Holsey and Carter combined for 18 of Tech’s 27 points on 8-10 shooting, but the rest of the team was a combined 3-16 at half. Duke’s crippling pressure defense was the biggest reason for the big lead, which gave Tech guards fits all night and forced 13 turnovers.
Tech was unable to get the ball to Miller in their half-court offense all game. Miller had been on a roll in the last six games, averaging nearly 17 points and over three blocks per game.
“[Miller] didn’t get the ball that much and he didn’t because our perimeter defense was the best it’s been all year,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “We contested or denied. They have to run their offense pretty far out. Our ball pressure and contesting we thought was going to be a key for the ball game. It would make the passes longer and the vision tougher to see the post. Our perimeter was outstanding in that tonight and it helped our big guys. Our big guys did a nice job, but they got a lot of help from the perimeter.”
In the second half, Duke extended their lead to 50-30, prompting Tech to go on a 7-0 run where Chris Bolden recorded five straight points. Tech had several opportunities to cut the lead to ten, but was unable to convert. After cutting the lead to 12, Hood made another three and Duke forward Jabari Parker had a three point play to extend the lead to 18 with 9:02 remaining. Parker was a force on the glass all night, finishing the game with 16 points and 14 rebounds.
Defensively, the Jackets did a much better job guarding the three point line and perimeter, holding Duke to 29 percent shooting in the second half.
Offensively, Tech was not able to take advantage of Duke’s shooting woes. They scored just 24 points on 35 percent shooting in the second half. Positives from the game were that Golden didn’t seem to be as hobbled by his groin injury and Carter Jr. appeared to be almost fully back after leading the team with 13 points and nine rebounds.
“[Carter] did some good things in 26 minutes which was a good number for him. He’s progressively getting better. He’s feeling more comfortable,” Gregory said. “The one thing we need from Kam—he played 21 minutes and didn’t get a defensive rebound. I think that’s humanly impossible. We need him more engaged on the glass for us on the defensive end. You need Daniel as your pressure release to set those ball screens and that takes him away from the basket.”
The loss dropped Tech to 13-13 (4-9 ACC) and moved Duke to 21-5 (10-3 ACC). The Jackets take on Clemson tomorrow at McCamish Pavilion.