ATLANTA — Duke had a miserable night shooting. The defense was just fine.
Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler scored 19 points each and the third-ranked Blue Devils overcame their worst shooting game of the season for a seventh straight victory, pulling away to beat sloppy Georgia Tech 70-56 on Wednesday night.
Duke (15-1, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) was just 23-of-59 from the field, a 39-percent performance that would have been enough to get them beat on many nights. Not this one.
Georgia Tech (9-7, 0-3) turned it over 18 times, went only 7-of-19 from the free throw line and started with three straight ACC losses for the second straight season.
“That’s our style of basketball,” Henderson insisted. “We’re defense oriented. Defense will get you a long way.”
Lewis Clinch hit a 3-pointer that pulled the Yellow Jackets to 46-41 with just over 8 minutes remaining. But Jon Scheyer hit twice from beyond the arc and Henderson also swished a 3, stretching the margin far beyond comeback range for a team of Georgia Tech’s limited offensive skills.
Henderson scored 12 points in the second half and Singler added 10, to go along with yeoman work on the boards. He finished with 14 rebounds, helping the Blue Devils to a 41-39 edge overall.
“In the second half, we had a little more movement offensively,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We tried to run a bunch of things through those two guys.”
Scheyer added 14 points.
At the other end, Duke directed much of its focus toward Gani Lawal, who was Georgia Tech’s leading scorer at 16.8 points a game. The 6-foot-9 sophomore was doubled nearly every time he touched the ball in the second half and finished with six points, his second-lowest output of the season.
He was 2-of-8 from both the field and the free throw line, though he did pull down a career-high 17 rebounds.
“When I got the ball down low, I had a lot of bodies on me, a lot of pressure,” Lawal said. “I’ve got to go back to the lab and see where I can get a little better at playing out of those double- and triple-teams.”
He needs to focus on his free throw shooting, as well.
“There’s no magic wand that will help me start making them all,” Lawal said. “I’ve just got to keep working. It’s not like I’m up there trying to miss.”
Zachery Peacock, with 13 points, was the lone player in double figures for the Yellow Jackets, who were a little more accurate from the field (41 percent) than they were from the line (37 percent).
“If we play defense, we usually win,” Singler said. “Games go up and down. We were doing simple things. We were running different options. We got into a rhythm. We got going.”
Duke’s previous worst shooting effort was 41 percent against Virginia Tech on Jan. 4. But the Blue Devils, who also started dismally at the line, hit enough free throws down the stretch to bury the Yellow Jackets.
The defense was there all the way. The Blue Devils focused on pressuring the ballhandler, looking to prevent Lawal from getting it down low, and even broke out a half-court zone trap on one possession that Coach K could never remember using.
Georgia Tech surprisingly led through most of the first half, building its largest margin when Peacock laid it in off a nifty pass from Clinch to make it 23-15 about 12 minutes into the game.
The Yellow Jackets made only one more field goal the rest of the half, enduring a scoring drought that stretched for nearly 6 minutes. During that span, they missed eight straight shots, clanked four straight free throws and turned it over four times before Alade Aminu finally made one from the line.
Duke, despite shooting just 12-of-36 from the field, went to the locker room with a 31-28 lead and steadily pulled away in the second half as a few more jumpers started to fall. Georgia Tech kept throwing it away, though it actually improved in the ball-handling department after committing 28 turnovers in a weekend loss at Maryland.
“We turned the ball over a little bit and we let them get some offensive rebounds,” Clinch said. “We let it slip away.”
One bright spot for the home team: Top high school prospect Derrick Favors announced earlier Wednesday that he would attend Georgia Tech next season, picking the Yellow Jackets over Georgia and North Carolina State. He attended the game and received a rousing ovation when shown on the video board during the second half.
Georgia Tech could have used him in a gold-and-white uniform.
“I heard that we got him,” Lawal said. “Those cheers were well-deserved. That’s big for us.”