GAMEDAY Mens Basketball

Duke 69, Georgia Tech 57

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

AP Basketball Writer

DURHAM, N.C. - Mike Krzyzewski could sense his Duke players were battling fatigue by halftime in the second-ranked Blue Devils' return from a COVID-19 outbreak. So he kept the message simple.

"I said, `I know you guys are tired," he said. '"But you cannot be tired on the defensive end."

The approach worked, with the Blue Devils holding Georgia Tech to 33% shooting while grinding out a 69-57 win in their first game in nearly two weeks.

Freshman Paolo Banchero had 17 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Blue Devils (12-1, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who won despite shooting season-low 37.3%. But Duke held the Yellow Jackets (6-7, 0-3) to 33% while dominating the glass (48-35) to get extra looks behind Banchero and Mark Williams (10 points, 14 rebounds).

It was never easy. Duke led by 15 midway through the second half but struggled to put this one away, with the Yellow Jackets twice cutting the deficit to six in the final 4 1/2 minutes.

Still, Duke came up with answers - namely a vicious throwdown slam from AJ Griffin, a contested 3 from fellow freshman Trevor Keels and multiple late free throws - to stay in front.

"We all had to get our legs back," Banchero said. "Some of us didn't feel too good coming into the game. But we had to grind it out and get a win."

ACC-leading scorer Michael Devoe finished on his average with 21 points for Georgia Tech. All but five came in the final 11-plus minutes, including the 3-pointer and driving score that twice brought the Yellow Jackets within six - the last time at 58-52 with 3:18 left.

The Yellow Jackets shot just 8 of 32 by halftime (25%) and finished at 33%.

"Duke's good enough to win the national championship," Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said. "I was really proud of our young men, they competed, they battled."

The Blue Devils hadn't played since beating Virginia Tech in their ACC opener Dec. 22. League games at Clemson and Notre Dame were postponed with Krzyzewski saying cases had gone through "just about our whole team" from players to staffers.

"To be able to be out and get to play again, you don't take it for granted anymore," said Griffin, who had 12 points off the bench. "It just gave me flashbacks about COVID, like when it first started. I'm just happy it's over now."