Jan. 9, 2010
ATLANTA (AP) – Georgia Tech was a team on a mission. It showed.
Duke was just plain tired. That showed, too.
Gani Lawal scored 21 points, including a crucial shot with just over a minute remaining, and No. 20 Georgia Tech bounced back from a dismal loss with a 71-67 upset of the fifth-ranked Blue Devils on Saturday.
The Yellow Jackets avoided an 0-2 start in conference play and made up for Tuesday’s 73-66 loss to state rival Georgia, a team that doesn’t have nearly as much as talent.
“This was a great bounce-back win,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. “The guys were really disappointed about that game the other night.”
Lawal worked the boards hard, putting back two straight misses during one pivotal stretch, and Georgia Tech (12-3, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) went ahead for good on yet another hustle play. Zachery Peacock grabbed an airball under the basket and flipped in a shot that put Georgia Tech ahead 62-60 with 1:52 remaining.
After Kyle Singler missed again for Duke (13-2, 1-1) on a 3-pointer – the junior forward was 2 for 13 from the field – Lawal knocked down an awkward turnaround jumper from about 10 feet to give the Yellow Jackets some breathing room.
“I’ve practiced that shot. I knew it was good when it left my hand,” Lawal said. “I told the guys, ‘Just find a way to get me the ball.”‘
The Blue Devils were stymied by a miserable performance beyond the arc (6 for 28 on 3-pointers), had their slim depth exposed by foul trouble (Lance Thomas picked up his fifth with more than 10 minutes left, three other players finished with four) and didn’t provide star Jon Scheyer much help.
The point guard followed up a 31-point effort against Iowa State with another strong showing. He scored 25 points and chipped in with six assists. But Mason Plumlee, with 10 points off the bench, was the only other Duke player in double figures.
“Jon had a good game,” Singler said. “But we kind of rely on him too much. We have to do a better job of helping him out.”
The Blue Devils were playing their third game in a week, and it showed. After a pair of 21-point wins over Clemson and Iowa State, they seemed to run out of steam against a Georgia Tech team with superior depth.
“They were fresher than we were,” said coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team had been on a seven-game winning streak. “They wore us down some. That can tell in the shooting, when your legs aren’t completely there.”
Especially from 3-point range, though Duke never stopped firing up the long-range shots. They had twice as many attempts as the Yellow Jackets but didn’t get much more out of it. Georgia Tech was 5 for 14.
“I don’t think we were careless,” Scheyer said. “When we shoot them, we need to shoot them like we mean it.”
No one looked more weary than Singler. The junior forward was held to nine points – nearly seven below his average.
“Obviously, we didn’t get the game we needed from Singler,” Krzyzewski said. “I thought he had some really open looks that were there. But sometimes you don’t hit.”
The Yellow Jackets knew they couldn’t afford another effort like the one they had against Georgia, having already lost their ACC opener at home to Florida State in overtime. They managed to avert an 0-2 start in conference play by turning up the defensive pressure on Duke, pressing and trapping much more than they did against Georgia, and crashing the boards in the second half.
“Thinking back to Tuesday, I really let us down by not pressing more and trapping more,” Hewitt said. “My judgment was not right, not good.”
The Blue Devils had a 20-12 rebounding edge in the opening half, but Georgia Tech dominated 26-12 after the break. Lawal led the Yellow Jackets with nine rebounds, including back-to-back plays that gave the home team a big boost.
Iman Shumpert missed on a drive, but Lawal slammed home the rebound with a thunderous dunk that left the backboard shaking. After DUKE turned it over at the other end, Derrick Favors missed for the Yellow Jackets. But Lawal was in the right place again, grabbing the rebound and banking it in for a 52-47 lead.
“You don’t have to tell us to do that,” Lawal said. “That’s just a matter of wanting the ball.”
Each team had its run early on. Duke ripped off 12 straight points shortly after the opening tip, then Georgia Tech responded with a 14-2 spurt. The Blue Devils led 35-29 at halftime, and the margin was never more than that the rest of the way.
When the horn sounded, the Georgia Tech student body stormed the court. The Yellow Jackets had their first significant victory in a season of high expectations, and it won’t be the last one, according to Lawal.
“When we’re on top of our game,” he said, “no one can stop us.”