Duke bounces back, cruises past Georgia Tech

Duke's Rodney Hood scored 15 of his 27 points in the second half.

DURHAM, N.C. — It wasn’t always pretty, but it didn’t have to be. For No. 16 Duke (12-3, 1-1 ACC), it just needed a win.

And it got one against Georgia Tech (9-6, 0-2 ACC) in the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium to bounce back from a loss at Notre Dame on Saturday. Rodney Hood led the way with 27 points, his second straight 27-point effort, on just 12 shots. 

It was Duke’s first game as a team ranked outside the top 10 since 2007. In the first half, that slip in the rankings looked justified as Georgia Tech got seemingly everything it wanted offensively and didn’t let Duke do much offensively at all.

Somehow, though, Duke led 34-33 at the break in spite of shooting 36 percent in the first half to nearly 54 percent for the normally cold-shooting Yellow Jackets. In the second half, Duke outscored Georgia Tech 45-24, looking much more like the Duke team we thought we’d see all year long. 

1. The uptick in second-half intensity in all areas of the game was key.

"Dead" was the word most commonly used to describe the general demeanor of the game in the first half from the Duke perspective.

Even the normally rowdy Cameron Indoor Stadium was fairly lifeless. 

"I don’t know if it was the weather, the start of school or whatever. A lot of it was Georgia Tech. They just controlled tempo in the first half and played good (defense). We seemed dead. We didn’t have the life that we normally have," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. 

Duke somehow went into the halftime locker room up one point in spite of its bad defense and motionless offense, but you don’t often see a Blue Devils team coming off a loss looking as uninspired as Duke did in the first half. 

"Defensively, we gave up a lot of drives and still, we were up by one but if the game kept going that way, we weren’t going to win this game," Krzyzewski said. 

Naturally, he got on his team at halftime pretty hard, encouraging them to give better effort.

What did he say, exactly?

"I don’t think I can tell y’all that," junior point guard Quinn Cook said with a sly smile. 

After a few Duke hustle plays led to a 9-0 run in the first 1:58, the crowd was on its feet and screaming. 

I thought in the second half — and I’m not blaming the crowd, believe me, but the crowd was better, we were better," Krzyzewski said.

Barely two and a half minutes into the second half, Duke already had as many offensive rebounds (three) as it did in all of the first half, and it attacked the glass much more effectively than Georgia Tech, a team that prides itself on rebounding. 

Hood, who was devastated after the Notre Dame game because of botching a late-game possession, was perhaps the only Duke player that was playing well in the first half. But he knew everyone on the team — himself included — had to play harder and earn their first ACC win, so as a captain, he took that challenge on himself. 

"I took that to heart. We didn’t come out and play well with energy in the first half and that always hits home with me because I’m one of the leaders here and I’m playing significant minutes, so I had to change that, whether it’s scoring points or rebounding or just talking on defense," Hood said.

2. Jabari Parker’s struggles continue. 

As his head coach said after the Notre Dame game, Duke’s star freshman is indeed human. 

He scored 20 or more points in 10 of his first collegiate games, and in spite of his phenomenal talent, even he had to know it wasn’t always going to be that easy.

And in the last three games — two against conference foes — he’s averaging 10.3 points on 11-of-35 shooting (31.4 percent) and 1-of-8 from three. He didn’t play down the stretch against Notre Dame because he was ineffective on both ends, and he didn’t play against Georgia Tech in the final 7:53 because of foul trouble. 

Parker made a few nice defensive plays that won’t show up in the box score in the second half, particularly early, but was limited by foul trouble before he could get back on track.

Either way, he’s well aware of the kind of scrutiny he’s under, as are his teammates. 

"He’s going to miss some shots sometimes. Things are not going to go his way sometimes. But he’s a great kid, so we know he’s going to bounce back," sophomore Amile Jefferson said. "I don’t think anyone is worried about Jabari. He shouldn’t feel any pressure. He knows what he can do. He’s skilled. He can do a lot of things on the floor that people his size can’t do. At the end of the day, he’s young and he has room to grow."

Jefferson said that they’re reminding Parker to keep his head as best he can amidst the chaos. He, along with Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Kentucky’s Julius Randle, are three of the most high-profile players in the country as freshmen. All three have already faced varying degrees of scrutiny barely halfway into their first seasons of college basketball. 

"Wiggins and Randle and Parker, they’re 18-19 years old. They’ve never played at this level. They’ve never played the physicality. They haven’t been as closely scrutinized as everyone’s closely scrutinizing then. And they’ve been promoted and marketed way behind what they should be, but that’s the way it is," Krzyzewski said.

"People ask me, ‘What’s wrong with Parker?’ What’s wrong with him? He’s played great this year. He didn’t play well in the last game. He played pretty well tonight, a little bit better."

After the Notre Dame game, Krzyzewski compared Parker to a reliever that had a low ERA having a bad outing — someone who would also not finish the game in that circumstance — and on Tuesday, he invoked Yankees’ slugger Derek Jeter instead. 

"(Derek) Jeter doesn’t hit .950, and he’s there every day. LeBron, Kobe and all these guys — they lose, they play poorly, but in college basketball, those kids are like, no, they’re supposed to be instant, and it’s not instant. Nothing is instant," Krzyzewski said. 

Parker has been playing the five-spot all year for Duke, and though he’s pretty big for his age and position, he’s going to have nights where he has to guard someone bigger and stronger than he is. On Tuesday, it was Georgia Tech’s seven-foot center Daniel Miller. "In some respects, he plays a little bit out of position because if I had a bigger team, I’d play him on the wing which is probably eventually what he’s going to do," Krzyzewski said.

Parker didn’t talk to the media after the Notre Dame game, but he did on Tuesday. He smiled politely, praising his teammates and vowing to use the last few games as a learning experience as he continues to grow. 

When asked if he was physically or mentally tired, he said some of both. 

"I think it’s a little bit of both," Parker said. "I’ve got to just mature, take it from right now, learn from it and then hopefully I can play my part as the season progresses."

His teammates know he’ll come around.

But they also know that it’s not going to get any easier. 

"Teams are just naturally going to throw more double teams at him or he’s going to see more looks," Jefferson said. "It’s going to be harder for him to score, especially in conference. He just has to keep his head. I think he’s doing a great job. He’s going to be fine."

3. A lineup tweak helped ignite the Blue Devils offense against a pretty stingy Yellow Jackets defense.

Senior captains Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton had been starting for the Blue Devils, mostly because Krzyzewski wanted his team to play better defense and those two always give max effort  on that end. But both are limited offensively, and so Krzyzewski trotted out two new starters against Georgia Tech in sophomores Rasheed Sulaimon (guard) and Jefferson (forward).

"Different look — Rasheed with his driving ability and Amile with his length out there and his quickness. He can guard the ball screen well. Those two brought a good look to us," Cook said.

In the second half, things were going Duke’s way already as it had a 10-point lead, 60-50. Of course, the Blue Devils had that same lead at Notre Dame, and we all know how that one ended. 

Parker picked up his fourth foul with 7:53 to go, at which point he came out for good. The five on the floor were Cook, Sulaimon, fifth-year senior Andre Dawkins, Hood and Jefferson. 

This was the kind of lineup we thought we’d see a bit more from Duke at the beginning of the season — dangerous shooters and slashers at nearly every spot on the floor, with Jefferson in as an energy guy that can get rebounds and run the floor. 

And for about a two-minute stretch, that lineup started Duke on a 6-2 spurt before Thornton came back in for a few seconds before getting his third foul. As a result, at the 4:49 mark, that lineup made a reappearance and finished the game on an 11-2 run. 

Krzyzewski said that assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski was responsible for scouting the Yellow Jackets, and he suggested a certain set that he thought would work. 

"It was Wojo’s scout, and he made a great suggestion the last eight minutes in going to a set that incorporated (Hood) in a ball screen and then popping out. It was a great suggestion and it turned it four 3’s. (Hood) hit four 3’s from that," Krzyzewski said.

Hood has normally played the three-spot in Duke’s lineup, but his move to the four-spot down low created some matchup problems for Georgia Tech. As it will for most teams. 

It becomes a "pick your poison" situation. 

"With me at the 4, it causes teams a lot of problems. (Dawkins and Cook) can get in the lane at will and (Dawkins) of course is a deadly weapon, so they’ve got to choose which one to leave," Hood said. "Tonight, they were leaving me and I made them pay.

"It can be challenging at times, especially when you’re playing bangers like that. But on the opposite side, on the offensive side of the ball, it’s fun."

And during that final eight-minute stretch, Duke finally looked like it was having fun again on the basketball court.