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Duke basketball found its offense at Georgia Tech. Can the Blue Devils build on that?

The Charlotte Observer logo The Charlotte Observer 1/29/2023 Steve Wiseman, The Charlotte Observer

For a Duke team not used to burying opponents with hot shooting, seeing shot after shot after shot fall Saturday at Georgia Tech was magical.

It wasn’t trickery, though, that allowed the Blue Devils to shoot a season-high 55.7% in an 86-43 domination of the Yellow Jackets.

Precision passing, with selflessness on display throughout, fueled the kind of offense the Blue Devils longed to produce throughout what’s been a trying January.

Duke picked apart Georgia Tech’s zone to earn 24 assists on 34 field goals. That’s an assist on 70.6% of baskets.

Compare that to, say, Duke’s performance exactly two weeks earlier at Clemson. While losing 72-64 to the Tigers, the Blue Devils shot 38% and assisted on just 37.5% of their field goals.

No one will confuse Georgia Tech (8-13, 1-10 ACC), ahead of only Louisville in the ACC standings, with league-leading Clemson.

Yet the way the Blue Devils approached their offense, after so many subpar performances this month, gives hope they can be a more powerful team on that end of the court going forward.

Perhaps, maybe, Saturday was just the start.

“I think the biggest thing for us is,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said, “we’ve done that in spurts throughout the year. We just haven’t done it for 40 minutes of a game.”

The Blue Devils came out firing, and Georgia Tech never had a chance. Jeremy Roach hit 3-pointers for Duke’s first two baskets. Duke needed fewer than eight minutes to lead by 10.

When Georgia Tech cut the Duke lead to 30-23, the Blue Devils closed the first half on a 13-2 run to lead by 18 points at halftime.

After suffering a 78-75 loss at Virginia Tech on Monday, Duke worked on creating more movement with its offense. Less dribbling and isolation plays and more passing was the plan.

“Overall we wanted to focus on ourselves to get back to what we do,” Roach said. “Moving the ball and getting stops on defense. I think in the V-Tech game we got a little too stagnant. So getting guys moving on offense, I think, was a big thing for us.”

Even with freshman Dariq Whitehead not in uniform due to a strained lower left leg suffered at Virginia Tech, Duke had production up and down its different lineups. Kyle Filipowski scoring 18 points was not a surprise, since he averages 15.6 points and has hit 42.9% of his shots.

But getting 10 points each from reserves Jacob Grandison and Ryan Young sure boosted the attack. So, too, did Roach hitting 4 of 7 3-pointers to score 12 points.

Freshman point guard Tyrese Proctor looked comfortable while dishing eight assists, scoring seven points and playing 27 minutes without committing a turnover.

Plus, and this could be a big plus, 7-1 freshman Dereck Lively got into the act. He sank an open 3-pointer and scored on a rebound in the game’s early going. He finished with nine points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots.

“For Dereck,” Scheyer said, “we just feel like it’s a time where he’s really, it’s like he’s on a launching pad right now. He’s got a chance to take off and today really was the start of it.”

Scheyer didn’t base that lofty thought on Saturday’s game alone. He liked what Lively did in Duke’s last two games against Miami and Virginia Tech. Lively has impressed the coaches with his growing confidence in practice.

Lively isn’t the type of player who posts up down low to get an entry pass and maneuver for a basket. That’s not his game. Instead, he’s always a threat on a lob pass from a driving guard. He also thrives as an offensive rebounder to generate extra scoring chances.

“He’s a threat,” Scheyer said. “So when he’s on the court, you can see the way the defense adjusts, especially in pick and roll.”

On Saturday, Duke took advantage of those gaps created by Lively receiving attention to zip the ball around and get high-percentage shots. Filipowski, Young and Mark Mitchell benefited inside.

After going five consecutive games this month without shooting better than 40.3%, the Blue Devils have shot 48.3% and 55.7% the past two games. The trend is positive.

“I’ve seen, with our group, how we’ve gotten better,” Scheyer said. “There’s no question we’re better than we were a month ago or two months ago. And this league is really tough and can expose you, especially on the road. I think that’s been a big adjustment for us.”

The question now is if Duke can keep this going against better teams. Duke’s next four games are against Wake Forest (14-8, 6-5), North Carolina (15-6, 7-3), Miami (16-5, 7-4) and Virginia (16-3, 8-2). The first two are at Cameron Indoor, the next two on the road.

At some point in that stretch, it appears, Duke will get Whitehead back.

But with or without him, the Blue Devils believe they’ve found a way to score more points. They certainly did so at Georgia Tech.

©2023 The Charlotte Observer. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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