A season that continues to explore new depths descended even further Saturday.
Georgia Tech was outplayed in the first half and then was trampled in the second, with the final result an 86-43 defeat against Duke at McCamish Pavilion. That was both the most points allowed this season by the Yellow Jackets and their fewest scored. Outmanned from both a talent and size perspective, Tech was unable to function at either end of the floor with any consistency. The Blue Devils scored all the points they would need to defeat the Jackets within the first minute of the second half.
“They just kicked our rear end,” coach Josh Pastner said. “Their size was overwhelming for us. We got in stretches where we just couldn’t score, and it just kind of spirals.”
Tech lost its seventh consecutive game, tying for the longest losing streak in Pastner’s tenure. With deft passing, movement off the ball and the aforementioned advantages in skill and size, the Blue Devils manipulated the Tech defense to consistently generate open shots from 3-point range and at the basket.
“They definitely ran their offense pretty well,” center Rodney Howard said. “A lot of movement, and they pretty much got what they wanted on us. We just couldn’t guard them. We just had to have better fight. We can’t have that happen.”
Duke made 55.7% of its shots from the field and recorded 24 assists, which were season highs both allowed by the Jackets and attained by Duke. The Jackets, who have prided themselves on their defense in Pastner’s tenure, have allowed opponents to shoot better than 50% from the field in their past four games.
“If somebody want to come in and score, we’ve got to stop it,” Howard said. “We just can’t have somebody just come in and want to punch us first or pretty much punk us in a sense. We’ve got to fight. That’s just the bottom line.”
Tech had no answer for the size and skill that first-year Blue Devils coach Jon Scheyer threw at the Jackets. Freshman centers Kyle Filipowski (7-foot) and Dereck Lively (7-1), both five-star prospects and first-round NBA draft prospects, combined for 27 points on 15 field-goal tries, 17 rebounds and five blocked shots and helped limit Tech to 12-for-33 shooting (36.4%) on 2-point field-goal tries. At times, to try to counteract Duke’s size with quickness, Pastner fielded a lineup where the second and third tallest players were 6-6 and 6-3, while Duke’s were 7-0 and 6-8. On this afternoon, it was not an effective strategy.
“We tried to play small to give us some things offensively, but they were able to just stay at home on the perimeter and really just tried to play volleyball at the rim with some of our drives down there,” Pastner said.
With the Jackets continuing to miss the mark from 3-point range (5-for-22 for 22.7%, making the Jackets 21-for-97, or 21.6%, over their past four games), there weren’t a lot of other options. Tech made it to the free-throw line only six times, the third game in a row with six or fewer free-throw tries.
Tech (8-13, 1-10 ACC) has its worst record after 21 games since the 2011-12 season, coach Brian Gregory’s first. The Jackets haven’t been 1-10 after 11 league games since the 2008-09 season, the third-to-last season of coach Paul Hewitt’s tenure. Of Tech’s 10 ACC losses, nine have been by double digits, capped by Saturday’s 43-point loss, the second greatest margin of defeat in Pastner’s tenure.
“First, I wanted to say sorry for the way we came out there,” Howard said. “I felt we had a lot of fans out there that came to watch us, and they probably ended up disappointed with how we played and didn’t fight the right way. I guess Duke just outplayed us and wanted it more than us. We just couldn’t get anything going.”
Said guard Deebo Coleman, “It’s embarrassing on our part.”
Pastner acknowledged a shortage of toughness on his team’s part.
“We have good young guys,” he said. “Sometimes, they’re really nice off the floor, and they take that niceness on the floor. We need some of that toughness on the floor.”
Helmed by Scheyer, Duke (15-6, 6-4) faced the Jackets for the first time without the legendary Mike Krzyzewski in charge since the 1979-80 season. The winning continued. The Blue Devils have won 16 of the past 17 meetings with Tech.
Taking control from the start, Duke led by 10 less than eight minutes into the game and claimed a 43-25 lead at halftime. The Jackets closed the lead to 30-23 with 4:23 left in the first half, which compelled Scheyer to take what would be his only timeout of the game, but Duke answered with a 6-0 run to reestablish a 36-23 lead. The Blue Devils’ advantage snowballed after halftime, as they opened the second half with a 19-3 run to take a 62-28 lead with 13:45 to play. They shot 63.3% from the field after halftime (19-for-30), their offense flowing around the Jackets like water down a stream.
Tech was led by guard Tristan Maxwell, who scored 10 points off the bench. To combat Duke’s size, Pastner put freshman forward Cyril Martynov into the game late in the first half, just his fifth appearance of the season and first ACC game. He was not able to help the game in Tech’s favor.
The Jackets play at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Louisville. The Cardinals, at 2-19, appear to be the only team in the ACC worse than Tech.
“We’ve got to find a way,” Pastner said. “That’s the responsibility tasked with me, and I obviously haven’t done a good point to this point. I can assure you, I’ve tried every single thing you can imagine.”