DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Singler went to the bench and clutched his banged-up right wrist. Then he came back onto the court, rattled in a 3-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer and kept making those long-range shots during the second half.
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That pesky wrist injury certainly couldn’t slow the Duke star. Georgia Tech’s defense didn’t stand a chance, either.
Singler had career highs of 30 points and eight 3-pointers to lead the 10th-ranked Blue Devils past the 21st-ranked Yellow Jackets 86-67 on Thursday night.
“I just got into a rhythm,” Singler said. “I took open shots … and started knocking them down.”
Jon Scheyer added 21 points for Duke (18-4, 6-2), which was strong inside and outside — hitting nearly 67 percent of its 3s and dominating Georgia Tech’s foul-plagued front line. Duke held a 40-32 rebounding edge and remained atop the Atlantic Coast Conference by claiming an easy win in a matchup of the league’s only ranked teams.
“In this type of game,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “it’s a spectacular shooting performance.”
Zachery Peacock scored the Yellow Jackets’ first 11 points, but was shut out after that. Leading scorers Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors were in foul trouble all night for Georgia Tech (16-6, 4-4), even though coach Paul Hewitt refused to use that as an excuse.
“I don’t think the fouls had anything to do with anything,” Hewitt said. “We had three days to prepare. I was sure we were ready. We spent more time preparing for them than we did anybody this year, and obviously, it didn’t do any good.”
Nolan Smith had 14 points for Duke, which led by double figures for the entire second half in bouncing back from an embarrassingly lopsided loss at Georgetown and avenging last month’s 71-67 loss to Georgia Tech.
“We wouldn’t be 18-4 unless we played really well,” Krzyzewski said. “We’ve had a couple of poor games, and we’re not going to define ourselves by a poor game. We’re going to define ourselves by the full body of work, and we’re just in a situation where a lot of people like to define us by whatever we don’t do well. Our kids have done a lot really well, and tonight, they even did it a little bit better.”
The Blue Devils shot nearly 45 percent against the nation’s fourth-best field-goal percentage defense, and Singler — who was just 2 for 13 in that defeat in Atlanta — was the main beneficiary of a newly installed motion offense designed to give him the freedom to create open looks for himself.
He finished 8 for 10 from 3-point range, scored 20 points in the final 20 minutes and shook off that sprained wrist on his shooting hand to lead the way in a dominating second half that carried the Blue Devils to their 15th straight win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“Kyle Singler made us pay, big time,” Hewitt said.
Duke was a late Georgia Tech free throw away from its 11th 20-point win at home this season, and entered outscoring its visitors by an average of 28.9 points.
Singler hit his first three 3s of the second half to help push Duke’s lead well into the teens. Then, he helped the Blue Devils take their first 20-point lead when he took off downcourt after his steal and dumped a behind-the-back pass to Smith, whose layup attempt was swatted away on the rim and Brian Oliver was called for goaltending to make it 63-43 with 11 minutes left.
“We didn’t do a good job of staying poised,” Lawal said. “We got rattled a little bit.”
Duke’s three S’s — Singler, Scheyer and Smith — entered as the nation’s most productive scoring trio, averaging 53 points, and they were simply too much for a talented but young Georgia Tech team.
Lawal picked up two fouls in the first 33 seconds and played just 16 minutes; he and Favors logged six minutes apiece in the first half. Duke was in the double-bonus 10 minutes into the game — prime position for the nation’s top free-throw-shooting team — and made 24 of 36 attempts from the line.
“They’re our two big men and our two people who draw a lot of attention in the middle,” Peacock said of Lawal and Favors. “With them not in the game, that definitely hurt us.”
Singler’s only two baskets of the first half were big ones, and overshadowed the brief scare he gave the Blue Devils.
His 3 with 12 minutes until the break put Duke ahead to stay. Then, after his short trip to the bench to check his wrist, he came back moments later and hit the 3 just before the buzzer — “a silent kind of dagger,” he later called it — that capped a half-closing 15-6 run and gave the Blue Devils their first double-figure lead, 45-33.
The Yellow Jackets were denied their second victory at Cameron since 1996.