It turns out no Mike Krzyzewski was no problem for Duke.
With Krzyzewski sick back at home, assistant coach Jeff Capel rallied Duke after a poor first half for a convincing 80-71 win at Georgia Tech.
“This really tests your togetherness when you're dealing with adversity and dealing with losses,” Marshall Plumlee said. “Do you splinter or come together, and tonight, we came together.”
Duke had lost four of its past five games prior to its week off from ACC play leading into this game with the Yellow Jackets. And the Blue Devils lost their coach to a sickness that set in quickly Monday night as they were preparing to travel to Atlanta. Tuesday morning, the group found out Krzyzewski wasn’t coming at all. Capel quickly went to work to assure the team that Krzyzewski had them prepared. All they had to do was execute.
“I’m really proud of them,” Capel said.
The switch to a man-to-man defense in the second half made all the difference for the Blue Devils (16-6, 5-4 ACC). Suddenly the easy inside looks disappeared for the Yellow Jackets, and Georgia Tech shot 31 percent in the second half. The Yellow Jackets (12-10, 2-7) struggled to make longer jump shots, especially from behind the 3-point line (2-for-19).
A 16-2 run that started midway through the second half opened up the game for the Blue Devils. Grayson Allen paced the Blue Devils offensively with 27 points. Duke’s most consistent player this year was on fire from behind the arc, making seven of his first nine 3-point attempts. Allen also collected seven rebounds and dished out four assists.
The Blue Devils’ had a week off from game action didn’t fix the issues with Duke’s zone defense. Both the 2-3 and the 1-3-1 with Brandon Ingram up top failed to slow Georgia Tech in the first 20 minutes. The Yellow Jackets shot 70 percent (16-for-23) from 2-point range to build a 40-36 halftime lead.
At the end of the first half, Capel scrapped the zones in favor of Duke’s more traditional man-to-man. And the most traditional result – a Duke win – followed.
“It was interesting, because we didn’t walk through or go through a single man play of Georgia Tech’s all week,” Capel said. “All we had worked on in preparation for this game was zone.”
This week is a crucial one for Duke, as the schedule gets considerably harder in the next two weeks. N.C. State visits Saturday, and then it gets much tougher: Louisville, Virginia, at North Carolina, at Louisville. Krzyzewski is expected to be back for Saturday’s game against the Wolfpack.
The worst news for the Blue Devils Tuesday night was the return of the boot to Amile Jefferson’s injured right foot. He isn’t expected to be ready for the game against N.C. State or Monday’s date with Louisville. The Blue Devils, though, can’t wait for Jefferson to save the season. And Tuesday night, Duke took a step in the right direction.
“We understood the importance of taking it one game at a time and knowing that every game in the ACC isn't easy,” Matt Jones said. “To come out here and show the fight and togetherness that we did, it really meant a lot.”