Duke guard Tyler Thornton (3) drives to the basket as Georgia Tech guard Pierre Jordan (2) defends in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012 in Atlanta. Duke won 81-74. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech came within some late misses at the foul line of possibly upsetting Duke in Brian Gregory's first ACC game as coach.
But Gregory, who enjoyed plenty of success at Dayton, didn't want to talk about moral victories. He is counting on breakthrough victories, not near-misses against ranked teams, to help rebuild the Yellow Jackets program.
"I told our guys, this is Georgia Tech. The tradition is one of the best," Gregory said. "There are no moral victories at Georgia Tech. We don't feel good because we came close."
Still, the Yellow Jackets had to be encouraged. Their fans in the crowd of 9,277 at Philips Arena certainly were on Saturday.
Down by 18 points in the first game, Georgia Tech gave No. 5-ranked Duke a scare before losing 81-74.
"We knew what we could do, we just needed to show everyone else," said Glen Rice Jr., who had 28 points and also grabbed eight rebounds.
"We played hard and kept fighting," said Mfon Udofia, who added 19 points and four assists. "We have to keep the same focus and intensity, and build off this."
Duke (13-2) survived at the foul line, with Ryan Kelly going 8-for-8 in the final 36 seconds. He was 14-for-14 for the game and finished with a career-best 21 points despite being dropped from the starting lineup after the Blue Devils' loss to Temple in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
"We won a terrific game," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I though both teams played really well. Welcome to the ACC."
Seth Curry shook off a cold-shooting first half to score 10 of his 15 points in the second half and freshman Quinn Cook had 10 points to go with five assists and one turnover in his first start.
"He really played well," Krzyzewski said of Cook. "I might have been afraid. He wasn't."
It certainly did get scary for Duke. Georgia Tech looked nothing like the team that had lost to Alabama 73-48 on Tuesday while falling to 7-7 in pre-ACC play.
Rice and Udofia were 6-for-10 on 3-pointers and combined for 29 of Georgia Tech's 39 points in the second half.
Down 61-51 with eight minutes to play, Georgia Tech closed to 68-66 with 2:58 remaining and had a chance to tie.
But Udofia missed two free throws and Rice missed another pair with 1:38 left after a steal and layup by Austin Rivers.
The Yellow Jackets couldn't get any closer than 75-73 on Rice's 3-pointer that followed Kelly's two free throws with 35.9 seconds left. Sent back to the line three more times, Kelly was perfect again, again and again.
"I'm a good foul shooter and I always believe I'm going to knock them down no matter where it is in the game," said Kelly, who came in shooting 79 percent.
An intense day of practice and meetings followed the loss to Temple and Duke responded early against Georgia Tech, taking a 32-14 lead with eight minutes left in the first half.
"I thought we started out great," said Krzyzewski, who praised Cook's early work of seven points and four assists. "The way (Cook) started was why we started so well."
"It was great for a freshman to come out and have no fear in his first ACC game," Curry said.
But the Yellow Jackets finished the first half on a 21-8 run to pull within 40-35 at intermission and the second half was close almost the whole way as Duke made just 6 of 22 3-pointers and was out-rebounded by 12.
Georgia Tech defeated Duke at Alexander Memorial Coliseum in the last three games there, winning in 2007 and 2010 under coach Paul Hewitt. But a victory didn't look possible this time.
"This is the way we should play night in and night out," Gregory said of the Yellow Jackets' effort. "We are getting better. ... The guys are more dialed in. We just have to keep doing it."