With Tre Jones back in its lineup on Saturday, No. 2 Duke still needed strong games from fellow freshmen Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett to turn back Georgia Tech’s upset bid.
After trailing the Yellow Jackets by eight points early in the second half, Duke turned things around behind its two leading scorers to post a 66-53 ACC basketball win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Barrett scored 24 points, while Williamson added 22 for Duke (17-2, 6-1 ACC). Jones, Duke’s point guard, played for the first time since suffering a right shoulder separation on Jan 14. He had missed two games.
Jones played 35 minutes, scoring six points with four rebounds and four assists.
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“Tre brought that defensive intensity that we love to have,” Williamson said, “and because of Tre we were able to get in transition a lot more. We looked a little rusty at first because we hadn’t done it for a few games, but I think we’re going to look a lot better next game.”
Duke won despite making just 2 of 21 3-pointers. The Blue Devils shot 41.4 percent overall, but hit 16 of 31 (51.6 percent) in the second half.
“We really just weren’t playing on defense and we played really bad on offense in the first half,” Barrett said. “We just couldn’t make any shots, but we started playing better defense in the second half and we were able to pick it up, which is good.”
Georgia Tech (11-9, 3-4) shot 41.4 percent and turned the ball over 19 times.
After Duke’s lowest scoring first half of the season, Georgia Tech scored the first six points of the second half -- all shots in the lane close to the rim -- to open a 35-27 lead.
A Mike Krzyzewski timeout with 18 minutes left in the game allowed Duke to tighten its defense and eventually take the lead.
“After coach called the timeout, he challenged us to get back to playing like ourselves,” Jones said. “We weren’t showing any energy, any enthusiasm out there. We were totally dead. We knew we had to pick it up, have a little life.”
Over a stretch of 12 Georgia Tech possessions covering nearly six minutes, the Yellow Jackets hit only one field goal while scoring just three points.
Abdoulaye Gueye’s basket at 15:43 gave Georgia Tech a 38-31 lead. But Duke followed that with a 13-0 run to push ahead.
A Cam Reddish 3-pointer (only Duke’s second of the game) started the run before Jones hit a layup in transition. Williamson’s basket in the lane at 14:11 tied the score at 38.
Barrett took things from there with a jumper, layup and two free throws for a 44-38 Duke lead with 12:27 to play.
Williamson’s basket in the lane with 10:10 left extended Duke’s advantage to 48-40.
Another Williamson, this one on a power move inside after a pass from Jones, gave Duke its first double-digit lead at 52-42 with 7:40 remaining.
The half’s highlight play came with 5:56 to play when Reddish tossed a high pass toward the rim, where Williamson leaped to slam home two points with a two-handed dunk for a 56-44 Blue Devils lead.
Even with Jones back, Duke never found a rhythm offensively in the first half and trailed 29-27 at intermission.
The Blue Devils hit only eight of 27 shots (29.6 percent) over the first 20 minutes while making only 1 of 12 3-pointers.
Barrett and Williamson had 10 points each at halftime. But Barrett compiled his points on 3 of 9 shooting with four turnovers.
Duke scored the game’s first five points. But with the Blue Devils turning the ball over six times in the game’s first eight minutes, the Yellow Jackets caught the Blue Devils at 8-8.
Duke built an 18-13 lead when Barrett hit two free throws with 7:17 and led 26-22 on two more Barrett free throws with 3:57 left until halftime.
But the Blue devils scored on only one of their final six possessions of the half, missing five shots in a row.
Georgia Tech, which shot just 38 percent in the first half, got Jose Alvarado and Michael Devoe layups and a Curtis Haywood 3-pointer to lead 29-27 at halftime.