Georgia Tech has vastly improved after a dismal 2008-09 season, but that still might not be enough for a rare victory over Duke.
The fifth-ranked Blue Devils look to continue their dominance in this rivalry when they visit the No. 20 Yellow Jackets on Saturday.
Thanks to 6-foot-9 junior Gani Lawal and one of the nation’s top freshmen classes, Georgia Tech (11-3, 0-1) is one win shy of matching its total from last season when it won two ACC games. Despite the turnaround, the Yellow Jackets are in danger of dropping their first two league games after falling 73-66 at rival Georgia on Tuesday.
Georgia Tech, which shot 32.9 percent in a 66-59 overtime home ACC-opening loss to Florida State on Dec. 20, made 38.3 percent of its shots and committed 20 turnovers against the Bulldogs.
“As poorly as we played, I still think this team has a pretty high ceiling,” said Paul Hewitt, who’ll coach his 300th game at Georgia Tech on Saturday.
The Yellow won’t have an easy time trying to prove their coach right. Duke (13-1, 1-0) has won four in a row and 24 of 26 against Georgia Tech, including 11 of 12 on the road in the series. The Blue Devils won 70-56 at Georgia Tech in the teams’ only meeting last season.
Paced by senior guard Jon Scheyer (19.7 points, 6.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds per game), Duke takes a seven-game winning streak into this contest and is the first of three ranked teams Georgia Tech will face over its next five games - all league contests.
“That’s the ACC,” Hewitt told the school’s official Web site. “That’s the way it’s always been. That’s just life in the ACC.”
No team during that stretch could present a tougher challenge than the Blue Devils, who lead the ACC in scoring (85.9) and allow 59.9 points per contest. The Yellow Jackets will try to slow Duke with their aggressive full-court pressure, but even Hewitt knows it can’t be done for long.
“Those guys know how to pace themselves and are very experienced,” Hewitt said of the Blue Devils. “Hopefully, you hope the press can get them out of their rhythm and you can force some turnovers. But, I don’t think you can go in and wear them down with pressure.”
That’s likely a tall order with Scheyer and junior Nolan Smith (18.5 ppg, 3.3 apg) handling the ball. Scheyer is averaging 23.6 points and 7.3 assists during the Blue Devils’ winning streak and Smith 21.6 points on 60.9 percent shooting in his last five contests.
Scheyer, who had 22 and six assists in a 74-53 league-opening win over then-No. 21 Clemson on Sunday, scored 31 points while playing a few miles from his hometown in Duke’s 86-65 rout of Iowa State on Wednesday in Chicago.
He’s averaging 13.6 points in five games against Georgia Tech.
“Some of the plays he makes, well you think he’s not that fast or whatever,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Scheyer. “He really has great body control, a soft touch and obviously a determined heart.”
Lawal (15.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg) has scored 50 points and grabbed 16 boards in his last two games for the Yellow Jackets, but is averaging 8.0 points in three games versus Duke. He had 17 rebounds in last season’s loss.
In order to pull off the upset, Georgia Tech will likely need highly-touted 6-10 freshman Derrick Favors (12.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg) to bounce back after scoring 14 combined points in his last two games.
Georgia Tech, 7-1 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum this season, last beat Duke at home, 74-63, on Jan. 10, 2007.