Defense has been the calling card of this Duke team all season, and Sunday afternoon the Blue Devils played one of their finest defensive games of the year, dealing Georgia Tech a 71-62 defeat in a physical game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Mike Krzyzewski won his 700th game as the Duke head coach thanks in large part to a first half defensive effort that completely stifled Georgia Tech.
Overplaying every passing lane and extending pressure very high out on the court, Duke opened up a 17-9 lead as four different Blue Devils hit a three pointer in the first 6:30 of the game.
Georgia Tech's only significant first half push came about midway through the period when the Yellow Jackets made a 10-4 run to trim the Duke lead to 21-19, but from that point on the Blue Devils reeled off a 20-7 run to close the half and take a 41-26 lead to the locker room.
One potential problem mounting late in the first half though was foul trouble, as both David McClure and Josh McRoberts exited the game.
McRoberts picked up his second foul with 8:10 remaining in the first half, while McClure was whistled for his third with 3:12 remaining. Both players spent much of the remainder of the half on the bench, and Krzyzewski made specific mention of that point in the game as a major key to victory.
"I thought our bench - Marty [Pocius], Lance [Thomas], and [Gerald Henderson]- gave us a spark...In the first half we got into foul trouble and then [Brian Zoubek, Pocius, Henderson, and Thomas], those kids,
we were able to manufacture a lead with Josh being on the bench. When you take it back just a couple of weeks ago, we got into all of that foul trouble and we were not able to do that. That shows that these kids are getting better."
Extending the lead to 15 at halftime even without McRoberts for much of the final eight minutes of the first half just made Georgia Tech's hill that much steeper to climb in the second half.
The Yellow Jackets threatened as the stretch run approached, cutting the lead to six points and five points on consecutive possessions, but Duke's defense and the shooting of Greg Paulus prevented them from getting over the hump.
Paulus made three second half three pointers to help him post high scoring honors for the game with 15 points, and the Yellow Jackets couldn't get their usual production from any of their top players, which led to them scoring nearly 20 points less than their season average.
Javaris Crittenton had been on fire over the previous four games, but Duke limited him to just 10 points on 15 shots and also forced him into six turnovers.
Ra'Sean Dickey scored 21 points against the Blue Devils in the first meeting between the teams on January 10th in Atlanta, but he left Cameron Indoor Stadium Sunday after being a non-factor in the loss, scoring just six points after struggling to earn any kind of good post position all afternoon.
Jon Scheyer (14) and DeMarcus Nelson (13) joined Paulus in scoring double figures for Duke, which won for a second consecutive game against an opponent known for its strength, physical play, and difficult matchups.
Krzyzewski said after earning his 700th win that the game left his team drained, but acknowledged that the win took a giant step toward removing any remaining doubt that Duke will once again be in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season.
"They are a very athletic basketball team and very physical," he said of Georgia Tech. "It was a very tough game. I thought our defense was terrific except for the start of the second half...We're earning our right to play in March, which with this schedule that we've had, it's been a little bit tougher than some other people, earning the right to get in there."
Duke won its 20th game, giving the Blue Devils their 11th straight 20-plus win season, and once again moved above .500 in ACC play to 7-6 in the league.
Duke will next be in action Thursday night at Clemson in a 9 p.m. game televised by ESPN.