Thoughts and observations from Georgia Tech's 68-51 loss to No. 5 Duke. Game story here .
1. Tech ran into a bear Wednesday night. Duke is, as its ranking, roster and record (alliteration unintended) would suggest, is a very good team, and the Yellow Jackets caught them on the wrong night and not quite prepared for what the Blue Devils were bringing.
“Our guys played a heck of a first half,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We played with amazing energy and focus.”
He later added that “I thought defensively we were outstanding tonight.”
Krzyzewski on center Daniel Miller being held to two points: “He didn’t get the ball that much, and he didn’t because our perimeter defense was the best it’s been all year.”
My colleague Laura Keeley, who covers Duke for the News & Observer, assured me that he normally isn't that pleased with his team's defense like he was Tuesday. Tech had something to do with it, certainly, but I think the Jackets took close to the best punch Duke could throw in the first half.
2. That being the case, the game was decided quickly well before the first half was over. The Blue Devils were all over the Jackets from the start, applying heavy pressure on the perimeter on guards Chris Bolden, Trae Golden and Corey Heyward. Even when it didn’t result in turnovers, it put the Jackets on their heels and prevented them from running their offense.
“They pressed the whole game, denied the point guard the ball, made other people bring the ball up the court,” forward Robert Carter said. “They just knocked us off our regular rhythm.”
3. It was a night Heyward will want to forget. The freshman has been dependable and strong on the ball, but either was rattled or not quite ready for what he saw Tuesday. He had four turnovers in his first seven minutes of play. Consider this – in his previous three games, he had turned the ball over five minutes in 94 minutes of play.
Krzyewski said Duke didn’t particularly target Heyward – “I think Heyward’s done a great job for them and it’s not like we felt we could take the ball away from him or anything like that” – Gregory thought oppositely.
“Obviously, they went after him,” he said. “And he’s got to learn from it. He’s a tough enough kid. I’ve been through it long enough. I’ve seen point guards that could not get the ball over half-court as freshmen against some teams, and then as seniors, they’re great players for you. You’ve got to learn from that. You’ve got to get better.”
Heyward had one turnover over his final 15 minutes and did seem to steady himself. I do think he has a bright future, particularly as his knee recovers.
4. He may not have seen it as such, but Duke forward Jabari Parker got the upper hand on Miller. In the first game between the two teams, Miller shot 7-for-11, often scoring against Parker while Parker was 4-for-12 for 12 points with six rebounds. Tuesday, Parker scored a game-high 16 on 6-for-12 shooting with 14 rebounds and three blocks. Miller had four points and nine rebounds.
“The first game, he really did a great job,” Parker said of Miller. “He was really good in the inside. He scored on us a lot, fluidly. But I think this game I just read the defense and just got the openings, not necessarily that I’m faster or anything that’s better than him. I just played a good game. He was good, too.”
He made one of the plays of the game in the second half. Tech had reduced Duke’s advantage to 52-40 – it had been as high as 20 points – at 10:19 with some more aggressive and sound play. But then Rodney Hood hit a 3-pointer off his own miss, then Heyward got stuck in the paint and was blocked. On the next possession, Parker fought for an offensive rebound, went back up, was fouled by Miller and scored and converted the free throw for a three-point play. The lead went from 12 to 18 in two Duke possessions, effectively dousing any last remaining hopes for Tech.
5. In his third game back from knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, Carter looked better, making five of nine shots and grabbing eight rebounds in 26 minutes. Holsey was 5-for-8 for 12 points but somehow had just two rebounds, both offensive.
“We need him more engaged on the glass for us on the defensive end,” Gregory said.
Golden scored two points in 17 minutes but showed better mobility and quickness.
“I think with a couple more days of practice, I think he’ll be ready to go and be much more effective on Saturday,” Gregory said.
6. The game really wasn’t in doubt after the lead got to 19 with 5:44 left in the first half, and perhaps earlier. Tech did get the lead back to 12 in the second half, but it was hard to believe that the Blue Devils would let it get much closer.
But make of this what you will – Duke scored 25 points in the second half on 29.2 percent shooting. The Blue Devils have had only one half this season where they scored fewer points and only three halves where they shot a lower percentage from the field. Tech also outrebounded Duke 21-14 after halftime.
However, the Blue Devils still outscored the Jackets 25-24 because they took better care of the ball (eight turnovers for Tech compared to three for Duke) and didn’t let Tech get loose for a significant run.
7. Krzyzewski isn't always given to giving particularly answers at news conferences, but he seemed to be in the right mood after the game (more below). He was asked about his team's effort and focus Tuesday, particularly in light of the fact that the Blue Devils play North Carolina Thursday and Syracuse Saturday. His answer:
"We try to do that every game," he said. "We've tried to do that for 30 years. The first four years, I was trying to figure it out. Your respect every game, and if you're only going to do well on a Saturday night show on Broadway, your show's not going to last very long. The Wednesday matinee, the Friday, the Thursday (show), you have to do your best, and that's what we try to do. We respect the heck out of Georgia Tech, and we thought this was a game where they could beat us and they can, because they're good. But they didn't, because we played well and we respect the game. That's what we try to do all the time."
An interesting comment about his first four years, although Duke did go to the NCAA tournament in that fourth season. Krzyzewski was 38-47 in his first three seasons, 13-29 in the ACC.
8. As he wrapped up, Krzyzewski gave a wink and nod to one of Gregory’s predecessors. He was asked about the team’s social media policy (not sure why) and went on this little soliloquy about how his players shouldn’t live their lives by a tweet or an article and how, “if (that life) was a body of water, it would be a puddle, and you would want to be an ocean. And if you’re listening to one another, the right people, an ocean’s a better place to live.”
Krzyewski paused and noticed the seeming absurdity of his tangent.
“And I haven’t even had any wine,” he said. “I’m going nuts. I think it’s the Cremins influence. I’m probably not making any sense, which he didn’t either, but he was pretty damn good.”
And with that, he ended his post-game news conference. I’ve heard or read Krzyzewski talk about Bobby Cremins before, and the affection and respect he holds for him is obvious. The other thing that strikes me is that it seems like a long, long time ago that Cremins was head coach at Tech – his last season was 1999-2000 – and not only were Cremins and Krzyzewski contemporaries, but Krzyzewski was hired at Duke in 1980, a year before Cremins arrived at Tech.
Krzyzewski is 67, born a few months before Cremins, and is in his 34th season at Duke. That’s some longevity.