Virginia Tech followed up a massive victory with a disappointing loss on Wednesday night. The Hokies lost to the No. 12 Duke Blue Devils 74-52. A combination of hot shooting from Duke and poor offense for the Hokies bedeviled Tech in Durham.
"That was 40 minutes of good basketball," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski after the game. "It's tough to do that."
Just four days removed from the program's biggest win of the season, Virginia Tech traveled to Cameron Indoor to face yet another huge opportunity. And through the first 17 minutes, Tech was up to the task and held serve with everything Duke threw at them. With 3:17 left in the first frame, Duke held a slim 29-28 advantage. A prompt 7-0 run heading into the locker room gave the Blue Devils the momentum they needed. The second half was all Duke, as the Blue Devils dominated the undersized and overwhelmed Hokies.
The eight-point edge ballooned to as much as 26 in the second frame. Tech couldn't match the energy of Duke, as the Blue Devils ran Buzzketball right off the court. Grayson Allen scored 25 points on 9 for 17 shooting, and made up for time lost from his suspension against the Hokies last season.
"He's our leader," Krzyzewski said. "With the ball in his hands, he can make plays and call plays. He's more in command."
In the previous two games out — wins against N.C. State and Virginia — the Hokies' defense was much-improved from previous ACC games. The Hokies forced 15 Wolfpack turnovers and held Virginia to their lowest shooting percentage. Against Duke, Tech proved old habits die hard. An astounding 15 for 33 shooting performance by Duke from beyond the arc looked familiar to the Hokies' other losses in ACC play. Allen led the charge for Duke, with a 7 for 15 outing from deep.
Duke out-rebounded the Hokies. Duh. But the scary part, Marvin Bagley III, the Blue Devils' leading rebounder and probably the best player in the country, was in street clothes nursing a sprained knee. It didn't bother Duke. The Blue Devils finished the game with a +17 rebounding margin, and a 11 to 3 offensive rebounding advantage.
"I thought we did a really good job of flooding the lane, being in the right position," said Buzz Williams after the game. "You're going to give something up with as many weapons as they have."
To combat the Hokies' offense, Duke rolled out a mixture of 2-3 and 3-2 zones. And they worked. Tech seemed befuddled all game long, as they struggled to find the gaps. The Hokies finished the game 21 for 49 (43%) from the field and just 7 for 20 (35%) from deep.
"We went in figuring we would play the whole game in zone," said Krzyzewski after the game. "We will play a lot more zone. That'll be pretty much our primary defense, complimented by man."
The extent to which Duke would rely on its zone was unknown to Tech.
"I told our guys I anticipated between 58 and 66% of the possessions would be zone," said Williams. "I used those numbers because I know our guys calculate it. If you say 'more than 50', they think it's a lot."
"They've always played zone, and only one game, the last game, could you use in preparation of how possibly they would play without Bagley. I did not anticipate that it would be 100% zone."
At the end of the day, it's obvious what lost Tech the game. With almost every other statistical category equal or very close, one stood out.
Virginia Tech from three: 7 for 20 (35%).
Duke from three: 15 for 33 (45.45%).
A difference of 24. The Hokies lost by 22.
I'm not saying that the rebounding doesn't matter. Or giving up 18 second chance points isn't important. But when Duke plays in Cameron, they'll win 9 out of 10 times with that many made three-pointers.
But. With all that said. This loss isn't the end of the road. For Tech to finish this two-game stretch at 1-1, it's a win. I noted that at the end of my column last week. And that's what it is. The Hokies are above .500 in the ACC (7-6) with five games remaining.
"I don't think they could've handled anything that has transpired since how bad Miami beat us, I don't think they could've handled anything better." said Williams. "That was 10 days ago that Miami beat us from start to finish in a very non-competitive game of energy by us, at home. We've had two days off, per the rules. In those 8 days, we've played 3 games, two on the road. How we've handled those environments, those situations is as good as any group since we've been here."
The Hokies now turn their attention to Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are down this year, but there's no doubt that it'll be a challenge. All road ACC games are. Williams and the Hokies must be able to move on quickly.
First Half: Virginia Tech 28–Duke 36
18:54: Grayson Allen starts off the scoring with a three-pointer.
17:58 Wendell Carter Jr. goes over the back but the foul is called on Devin Wilson. Interesting, to say the least.
15:55: A great defensive sequence by Tech leads to Justin Bibbs' second three-pointer of the game. Grayson Allen got poked in the face and is recovering on the bench during the media timeout.
11:14: Duke with seven turnovers already. Hokies have turned them into nine points. Tech has only turned the ball over once so far. Huge stat to keep an eye on as the night goes on.
3:42: Duke is shooting the lights out right now. Nine made field goals, 7 of them from beyond the arc, has helped them to a 29-25 lead. Half of my brain says that the Blue Devils can't keep making these contested shots. The other half is telling me it's Tech's defense and that it will continue.
00.0: About as bad an ending to the first half as Tech could ask for. Duke heads into the locker room on a 7-0 run. It honestly feels like it's much more than that.
Second Half: Virginia Tech 52–Duke 74
18:59: Justin Robinson picks up his third foul. He's the only Tech player with more than one.
15:36: First media timeout and Tech looks a little shell-shocked right now. Duke has kept their eight-point lead (44-36). They've continued to shoot extremely well from beyond the arc as well: Out of the 13 Blue Devil baskets, 9 of them are three-pointers.
14:43: Justin Robinson checks in after Duke extends their lead to 10.
11:30: Duke is dominating Tech right now. An eight-point halftime lead is up to 17 (56-39), and the Hokies are on the brink of getting absolutely run out of the gym.
8:07: This got ugly, and fast. Tech's down 66-46, and in the sports-writing business it's time to #StartWriting. Anything else of note I'll include, but yeah, Tech's going to lose.