Before a frenzied crowd, Georgia Tech gave No. 2 Duke more problems than it had faced in weeks. However, the Yellow Jackets made a few too many mistakes and then ran out of gas in falling 73-64 to the Blue Devils Wednesday night at McCamish Pavilion.
“All you can ask for is a chance to win the game,” Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “We had some chances.”
Trying to build on its road win at North Carolina Saturday, Tech led through much of the first half and chased down the Blue Devils after they had taken an 11-point lead early in the second half.
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Playing with energy and execution, Tech scored in transition and from the perimeter, at one point rattling the Blue Devils with an 11-0 run on 3-pointers by guards Jose Alvarado, Bubba Parham and Michael Devoe, followed by a drive by Alvarado, that put the Jackets ahead 53-50 with 11:37 to play and set McCamish to a fever pitch.
“I thought both teams played so hard,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And the crowd was great.”
The Jackets (7-8 overall, 2-3 ACC) led as late as the 6:40 mark, when Alvarado’s two free throws pushed Tech ahead 59-58.
But, in the final minutes, relying heavily on a six-man rotation, Tech faltered at game’s end. The Jackets missed their final 11 shots over the final 3:58, enabling the Blue Devils (14-1, 4-0) to keep a lead that was 63-62 at the 3:42 mark and grew to the final 73-64.
Center James Banks and Alvarado and Devoe played the full 20 minutes of the second half, and forward Moses Wright played all but the final 17 seconds.
“We probably got a little tired because we exerted so much energy to get back,” Pastner said.
Perhaps the final significant swing of the game unfolded with just under three minutes to play. Banks made a help-defense block of guard Cassius Stanley, leading to a fast break for the Jackets. Devoe, a 44-percent 3-point shooter, lined up a 3-pointer that would have given the Jackets a 67-66 lead.
Instead, Devoe’s shot bounced off the rim and over the backboard, giving the ball back to Duke. Blue Devils guard Tre Jones answered with a drive to the basket for a 68-64 lead. The Jackets failed to score for the remainder of the game.
Devoe scored 12 on 3-for-11 shooting from the field, 1-for-6 from 3-point range. He did have four assists and four steals against four turnovers.
It was far more difficulty than Duke had encountered since a rare home loss Nov. 26 to Stephen F. Austin. Since then, the Blue Devils had won seven consecutive games by an average of 24 points, all by 12 or more. They had won their previous two ACC games by a combined 72 points.
“I think they can play with anybody,” Krzyzewski said.
Throughout the game, Alvarado was guiding the Tech offense from the point and playing with his typical scrap on defense. Banks held his own against standout freshman center Vernon Carey.
The Jackets missed out on a chance to score arguably the most significant win of Pastner’s tenure, and to give their dim NCAA tournament hopes a major boost. It was, in fact, the second consecutive year in which the Jackets held a second-half lead on Duke before faltering.
Instead, the Blue Devils won their 13th in a row over the Jackets and their 37th in the past 40 in the series.
“I’m not a big moral-victory guy,” Pastner said. “We want to and I want to win no matter who we’re playing. Anyone who knows me knows I take every possession literally as intense as anything there is. But I will say our guys have gotten better.”
Tech was done in in part by 17 turnovers, a significant weakness of this team, which led to 18 Duke points. The Jackets lost control of the game in the final minutes of the first half as they strung together a series of possessions full of bad passes and poor movement. The Blue Devils trailed 20-16 at the 9:18 mark as Banks contributed some of his best play of the game — a block of Carey at the rim, a deft offensive rebound over Carey and putback and another putback.
But by half’s end, Duke led 40-29, aided by Tech four turnovers in the final 6:29.
“This is a big-time win for us because their crowd was great,” Krzyzewski said. “They were really good and they knocked us back at the beginning of each half, and our kids responded. And our defense the last 12 minutes of the first half was outstanding.”
Along with his 18 points, Alvarado had five assists against four turnovers. Banks scored 14 points with 15 rebounds and seven blocks. (Banks set a career high in rebounds and was one block shy of tying his career high in that category as he recorded his fourth double-double of the season.) Wright contributed his fifth double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“Their big guys really hammered us on the boards, but they were 10-for-31 (from the field),” Krzyzewski said, speaking of Banks and Wright. “So that worked out for us.”
“I thought Moses Wright played his tail off, and he and James obviously missed a lot of short shots, but I can live with that in a sense, because they played so hard,” Pastner said.
Tech managed to stay in the game despite shooting 35.9 percent from the field by going hard to the offensive glass, securing 16 offensive rebounds that yielded 14 second-chance points. Banks was responsible for seven offensive rebounds.
“I feel like we could have played better,” Banks said. “Honestly, I feel like we were off in a lot of places.”
The Jackets also were 13-for-15 from the free-throw line, their season high for accuracy (86.7 percent).
Duke, meanwhile, shot 51.9 percent from the field (guard Tre Jones led with 16 points), but only took 54 shots and was 11-for-21 (52.4 percent) from the line.
“We’ve got to be tougher than the other guys, we’ve go to have more energy than the other guys, we’ve got to compete harder than the other guys,” Alvarado said. “And if we’re that team every time, I like our chances.”
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