It’s finally time for Duke to play a true road game.
The inexperienced, 11th-ranked Blue Devils visit Georgia Tech on Wednesday in a matchup of teams searching for their first ACC win.
Other than games in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, Duke hasn’t played on an opponent’s home floor before conference play over the last five seasons. The team has played three games this season at neutral sites and lost one of them, 73-62 to then-No. 13 Marquette on Nov. 21 in Kansas City, Mo.
The lack of road games could be a factor Wednesday because the Blue Devils are so young, with no seniors in their rotation and three sophomores forming the core of their starting lineup.
That youth was evident as Duke (13-2, 0-1) lost an ACC opener for the first time in 11 seasons with a 69-67 overtime loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Blue Devils committed a season-high 22 turnovers, including six apiece from two sophomores—point guard Greg Paulus and forward Josh McRoberts.
Paulus, who has been hampered by injuries, failed to score for the first time this season and, maybe more significantly, handed out a season-low one assist.
“The best thing that a good player can have is amnesia; you forget about who you were the last game, whether it be good or bad, and you become who you’re supposed to be in the next game,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “That’s part of being tough and that’s part of being a good player.”
While Duke was beaten at home, Georgia Tech (11-4, 0-2) suffered its 14th straight road loss in stunning fashion, 75-74 at then-No. 23 Clemson on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets took a 74-73 lead on Javaris Crittenton’s runner with 6.5 seconds left only to surrender an uncontested layup by the Tigers’ James Mays on the other end.
Coach Paul Hewitt believes the sight of the Blue Devils will be enough for his team to recover from the pain of the loss.
“Had we both won big or lost big, it’s still going to be an ACC game, and guys are going to go out there and play very hard,” Hewitt said. “And anytime you play Duke, there’s an added motivation. They’ve been the best program in this league since I’ve been here. They always bring out a crowd.”
The Blue Devils have won 20 of their last 21 meetings with the Yellow Jackets and 10 straight in Atlanta since a 73-71 overtime loss on Feb. 7, 1996.
Georgia Tech, meanwhile, has won all nine home games this season by an average of more than 30 points. This is its first game at Alexander Memorial Coliseum against a ranked team.
Hewitt is concerned about defending McRoberts, who is averaging 16.4 points over his last five games. The 6-foot-10 McRoberts’ six turnovers on Saturday were a career high.
The task could be that much tougher for Georgia Tech if freshman reserve center Zach Peacock is suspended. The 6-7 Peacock was ejected from the Clemson game for throwing an elbow.
“With Zach, we haven’t heard a final word,” Hewitt said. “I think he’ll be suspended for the Duke game, but that’s just my speculation right now.”
The Yellow Jackets are averaging 84.4 points this season—second in the ACC to top-ranked North Carolina. They’ve had problems with turnovers, averaging 15.9—third-worst in the conference and just ahead of Duke’s 16.1 per game.
Crittenton, a freshman, has played well in Tech’s two ACC games, averaging 20.5 points. He’s averaging 13.9 points for the season.