No. 4 Duke handles pesky Georgia Tech 72-66

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski encourages his team in the first half against the Yellow Jackets at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski encourages his team in the first half against the Yellow Jackets at Cameron Indoor Stadium. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Mike Krzyzewski prides himself on bringing energy every day to work, and Wednesday, his team needed every bit that he could muster.

He said during a postgame ceremony to commemorate his 1,000th win that he still coaches every game like it’s his first – against the Yellow Jackets, he certainly had an energy level many 33-year-olds would envy.

The No. 4 Blue Devils did beat Georgia Tech 72-66 in an uneven performance, as Duke looked like a team running close to empty on an emotional scale. While the Yellow Jackets (10-12, 1-9) are the ACC’s last-place team, seven of their ACC losses have been by two possessions or fewer or in overtime. They didn’t roll over for Duke (19-3, 6-3), either.

Krzyzewski, who will turn 68 next week, tossed his jacket late in the first half. He slapped the floor, yelled at the whole stadium to get going, waving his arms to urge the crowd. He was visibly angry at times during timeouts – whatever it took to get his team going.

“You saw the jacket come off early,” Quinn Cook said. “Y’all have been here, you know what kind of (halftime) meeting that was. Coach, one thing about Coach is when we need to be yelled at, he’s the first one to do it, and when we’re playing great, he’s our biggest fan. He got after us, and we responded. We let up a little bit, and he got after us again.”

It was a one-point lead for Duke, 57-56, with 7 minutes, 17 seconds left. Georgia Tech’s Marcus Georges-Hunt missed a shot that would have given the Yellow Jackets their first lead since 16-15, and Duke went on a run from there.

Cook went scoreless during the first half, missing all four attempts from the field – Jay Williams came into the locker room afterward to fist-bump him, saying, “I was wondering when you were going to make a shot” – but he added 17 in the second half when the outcome was hanging in the balance.

Cook has consistently stepped up when the Blue Devils have needed a shot, and against Georgia Tech he drove the lane and converted layups on two straight possessions. Then, Justise Winslow intercepted a pass and took it back down the floor, finishing with a slam that put Duke ahead 63-56. That small cushion would last the rest of the game.

Cook also added a jumper with the shot clock winding down when the Yellow Jackets cut the deficit to four with about three minutes left. Matt Jones also recorded a critical steal in the final minute, as Georgia Tech had the ball down just four. When Georgia Tech cut it to four again, Cook sank two free throws to finally put the Yellow Jackets away.

Before the second half, Cook said Winslow and Jahlil Okafor got on him, telling him they needed him. It’s a dynamic Cook hasn’t seen in any of the previous Duke teams he has been on – freshmen comfortable enough to be tough with seniors – but he called it a “great thing that we have.”

“One thing about our team, it doesn’t matter what class you are, you can say whatever to anybody,” Cook said. “That was really it, just freshman having their teammate’s back. I responded.”

“Obviously our freshmen play a lot, so they see things out there that older guys may not see.”

Cook’s 17 points led the team. Winslow added 15 with 5-of-6 shooting from the field, and Okafor chipped in 14 as well. It was another night featuring the Blue Devils struggling to make 3-point shots – the team finished 5-for-18 (27.8 percent), the fourth ACC game the Blue Devils shot less than 29 percent from deep.

Free throws continue to be problematic for the Blue Devils, as they finished 62.5 percent (15-for-24) from the line. Entering the game, Duke was shooting 49.7 percent from the line.

The Yellow Jackets shot 72.7 percent from 3 (8-of-11).

“It doesn’t matter what a team’s record is,” Cook said. “They’re here for a reason, they’re in the ACC for a reason. All of these guys can play. This is their day in the sun, and they played with no pressure.”

After the final buzzer, Krzyzewski had his moment in the sun, coaching his first home game since getting win No. 1,000. Duke’s president and athletics director spoke, and a tribute video with many of his former players and friends making his trademark fist and saying “together,” echoing his idea of five players reaching their potential when they play as one. When Krzyzewski spoke, he thanked his family and the whole Duke community.

“No one loves Duke more than me,” he said. “They may love it as much – but I love Duke.”