Georgia Tech hung on all they could, but No. 4 Duke proved to be too talented on Wednesday night as the Yellow Jackets dropped their ninth ACC game of the year by a 72-66 score.
"I still think we’re a pretty good team, but we’re not perfect," said head coach Brian Gregory. "Eight of our nine losses have come down to the last two minutes, but we’re not quite there yet."
With less than two minutes in the game, Tech was down by six and still within striking distance. Tech drew a shot clock violation and responded with a Chris Bolden floater in the lane to make it 67-63 with 1:15 left in the game. Tech was able to force another stop, but Marcus Georges-Hunt tried to thread an outlet pass too tight into Duke’s defense, forcing the game clinching turnover.
Duke would go on to hit three of their next four free throws off intentional fouls, but Tadric Jackson responded with a big three pointer to cut the lead to 70-66 with 23 seconds left on the clock when it looked as if the game was well over with.
However, Duke would go on to hit their next two free throws and Justise Winslow ended the game off a backboard-stapling block against Josh Heath.
Tech would finish the night with an uncharacteristically high 8-11 mark from downtown, finishing 26-56 (46.6 percent) overall from the field. The Yellow jackets held Duke to a 45.6 percent clip and a mere 5-18 from downtown.
"We did not come out with the right emotion in this game," said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. "By their body language and attitude, you would think they were a 8-2 team in the league."
Tech started off the game strong in the first five minutes. Travis Jorgenson and Bolden were very fluid with the ball movement and the shot selection was much better than usual for Tech.
Duke had a hard time getting into rhythm early in the game, as it seemed they didn’t know whom the ball should have been going to. As a matter of fact, they trailed for more than seven minutes at the beginning of the first half. But eventually the Blue Devils clamped down on defense and found a rhythm.
Duke took a 17-16 lead at the 10:35 mark and quickly turned it into a 24-18 lead within a matter of minutes, with Winslow and Amile Jefferson getting open looks. Georgia Tech then pushed back, with another open three from Chris Bolden and and an easy basket from Cox. That made it 28-23, but Duke answered with two forced turnovers in a row which translated into easy buckets.
Tech wasn’t done fighting. They got nice back-to-back pullup jumpers from Jorgenson plus free throws from Josh Heath to make it 33-28. DeMarco Cox pulled a nice post move on Okafor to respond to an and-one from Winslow and make it a 38-30 score.
Georgia Tech finished off the half as strong as any team could, with a block on Tyus Jones and a nice fast-break finish from Bolden to Robert Sampson to make it a 38-34 deficit as the buzzer sounded.
"That was the worst end-of-half performance we’ve had all season," Krzyzewski said. "We just stopped playing and gave the ball away."
Bolden started the second half by draining a three right in front of Jones' outstretched arm to cut Duke’s lead to one, but Okafor responded with a big, open dunk to keep it 40-37. The Yellow Jackets stayed step-for step with Duke for the first five minutes of the second half, responding shot for shot. Bolden would finish the night 6-9 shooting with 16 points to lead the Yellow Jackets.
"Chris (Bolden) has been playing much better over the last five games," Gregory said. "He needs to keep being aggressive with the outside shot for us to have success."
Cox challenged Okafor all night in the post on both ends of the court to surprising effect. They both were 5-12 from the field, Cox having 10 points and Okafor with 14. It was one of the worst games the former No. 1 recruit in the country had played all season.
"Cox is a big boy, he’s nearly impossible to move," Krzyzewski said. "He played Jahlil (Okafor) very well, but we had Amile step up big time to pick up the slack."
Tech was much more consistent with their free throws in the second half, shooting 1-3 in the first half but a stronger 5-9 in the second. This allowed Tech to stay within a punchers chance for a good part of the second half. A three from Jackson plus some sloppy ball-handling by Duke left a one point deficit at 54-53 with 11:01 left in the game.
A jumper from Okafor plus a free throw made it 57-53 with under 10 minutes to play. Georges-Hunt responded with a triple to cut the lead to one and then would miss the ensuing, contested fast-break layup that would have given Tech the lead at the 7:17 mark.
Duke came back hard with back-to-back layups from Cook to make it 61-56 with 6:31 left. Duke would continue to apply double teams on defense and force turnovers throughout the rest of the second half, turning them into easy buckets. Tech would still fight on with the score 63-56, as Bolden responded with his fourth triple of the night to cut the score to 63-59.
Okafor responded with an NBA-level post swivel on Cox to extend Duke’s lead to six with 4:13 left in the game. Georges-Hunt made two big free throws but was nixed by a nice, driving lay in from Jones to make it 67-61 with 3:13 left.
Georgia Tech now falls to 1-9 in the ACC and 10-12 overall in the league. The Yellow Jackets get to host Wake Forest on Saturday at noon next.