Duke guard Nolan Smith reacts after feeding teammate Kyle Singler for a basket in the second half. CHUCK LIDDY - email@example.com
Updated at 11:05
DURHAM - The final margin of 22 points made it look like it was easy for Duke.
Senior guard Nolan Smith pointed to the scratches and bruises on his arms and legs to show that the 79-57 defeat of Georgia Tech on Sunday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium was more difficult than it looked.
“It was a physical [first] 10 minutes,” Smith said after scoring 20 of his 28 points in the second half. “There was a little knocking around. . .we just had to adjust.”
The No. 5-ranked Blue Devils did adjust after Georgia Tech scored 18 of the first 31 points. Freshman reserve guard Tyler Thornton scored six points in the final 4 minutes, 14 seconds of the first half as Duke turned a 26-26 tie into a 37-28 halftime advantage.
And after their sixth straight win, Blue Devils (25-2, 12-1 ACC) have a chance to move up in the rankings, possibly all the way to No. 1 in the nation when the polls are released today.
Since Monday, No. 1 Kansas (25-2), No. 2 Ohio State (25-2), No. 3 Texas (23-4) and No. 4 Pittsburgh (24-3) all have lost.
For the first 10 minutes Sunday, it looked like Duke was in danger of losing, too. Smith was called for his second foul on a charging call that angered the Blue Devil bench with 10:31 remaining in the half.
Fifteen seconds later, a foul on Thornton enraged the fans at Cameron and the Duke coaches. Referee Bryan Kersey called Krzyzewski for a technical foul.
“It happens,” Krzyzewski said. “There’s no sense in talking about it. It just happens. And obviously when that happens, you’re not going to agree with it. But it doesn’t make a darn bit of difference. You just go on to the next thing.”
Iman Shumpert, whose 13 points tied Maurice Miller for the Georgia Tech scoring lead, made four free throws to stretch the Yellow Jackets’ advantage to 18-13. But Duke center Mason Plumlee scored five straight points to tie the score at 20-20. Thornton’s strong finish to the first half – 4-for-4 from the foul line, plus a 14-foot runner 18 seconds before halftime – gave Duke a cushion.
And players said Krzyzewski’s technical foul – his first of the season – got their attention.
“Coach doesn’t get many technicals,” said senior forward Kyle Singler, who scored 15 points with nine rebounds. “When he does, it usually sparks the team.”
Krzyzewski, though, said a defensive adjustment helped the Blue Devils bounce back. He had expected Georgia Tech (11-14, 3-9) to start two post players and three guards, and designed his defense accordingly.
Instead, the Yellow Jackets started four guards – Shumpert, Miller, Glen Rice Jr. and Lance Storrs – and stretched a Duke defense that started post players Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly.
“We got spread out too much and were reaching and grabbing,” Krzyzewski said.
But six first-half points apiece from Thornton and Seth Curry helped Smith reach the second half without getting called for his third foul. No longer in foul trouble, Smith drove fearlessly to the basket and scored from 3-point range, going 7-for-11 from the field after halftime.
Singler bounced back from a career-low tying, two-point effort Wednesday at Virginia to post his highest scoring total in five games, although he was a tepid 5-for-14 from the field.
And Duke, which was No. 1 for the first 10 weeks of the season, was poised to climb in the polls again.
The only question is, how high?