Duke's Amile Jefferson, right, defends Georgia Tech's Daniel Miller. (AP photo)
DURHAM – Georgia Tech center Daniel Miller was killing Duke through the first 22 minutes of Tuesday's game. He made his first five field goals and had eight rebounds, by far a game-high at that point.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils were unprepared to defend Miller as the Yellow Jackets were using him, freeing him as more of a mid-range threat than the pure post-up player he normally is. That's when Duke put Amile Jefferson on Miller – a terrible matchup on paper for the skilled Miller, who is 65 pounds heavier and nearly three inches taller.
Miller's final 18:35 speaks to the job Jefferson did: 1-for-5 from the field, one assist, one turnover and zero rebounds.
Jefferson was the Blue Devils' most important defensive player in Duke's 79-57 win, and he used something for which he isn't known: trash talk. After Jefferson was moved to Miller, Miller received the ball about 12 feet from the hoop on the left side, and the normally affable Jefferson put a forearm in Miller's back and shouted “Come on! Come on!” daring Miller to post him up.
Miller passed away that time, then forced a jumper a few possessions later.
Jefferson smiled when asked about it after the game.
“He was playing really well, so I was just, to be honest, trying to get in his head,” Jefferson said. “He's a lot bigger than me, so I gotta use my voice, I gotta use my hands, I gotta do everything I can to try to distract him. He's good. He really finishes well. He was shooting, like, 65 percent on the year. I know when he shoots the ball, it has a great chance of going in, so if I can talk to him, get him to think about other things, I know it's to my advantage.”
Jefferson grabbed seven rebounds in the second half, many of them tough boards with the bigger Miller pushing him out of the way. His numerous box outs shut out Miller as Duke took control in the second half.
At one point, Jefferson grabbed a phsycial rebound and handed the ball to Duke guard Quinn Cook, who smiled and pounded Jefferson on the chest in salute for the job Jefferson was doing.
Jefferson said he's put on weight and a lot of strength from last season.
“Definitely put on a lot of strength, even with the 10, 15 pounds I put on,” Jefferson said. “I think a lot of strength came with it. But it's all fighting sometimes. (Miller) still was a lot bigger than me, even being stronger. I just kept a body on him. I was tired but I kept boxing him out.”
Teammates have come to expect that from Jefferson, who has a slight frame for a post player.
“Amile can do that. He's not the heaviest guy, but he can bust his butt down there,” Duke guard Andre Dawkins said. “He works hard to get position and rebound, and we need him to do that night in and night out. He did a great job of that (Tuesday).”