After Duke's win over Temple Wednesday night, Mike Krzyzewski predicted Duke would face a desperate Virginia Tech team Saturday night and that it would be a good test for Duke to see if they could match Tech's intensity.
He certainly was right about the first part. A team that practically has defined inconsistency over the last few years, Tech played with a passion and poise all too absent in games like their two losses to Virginia.
Tech's 64-60 win tightens the ACC race and will knock Duke out of the top spot of the national polls. Whether it punches the Hokies' ticket to the Big Dance depends on which team Seth Greenberg will put on the floor over the next two weeks.
The home team certainly came out with both barrels flying, knocking Duke back from the opening tip. Duke didn't score for the first three minutes and found itself trailing 9-4 at the first media timeout.
Rule number one for winning a tough game on the road is do not dig yourself into a hole. Duke dug themselves into a hole.
The Blue Devils spent the rest of the first half playing catch-up, even taking short-lived leads at 16-14 and 18-16. Before one could breath a sigh of relief, Tech reasserted control with a 13-4 run. Andre Dawkins hit a 3 right before intermission to cut VT's lead to 33-31 and Duke seemed to have dodged the early knockout punch.
The second half continued the roller-coaster ride. Or perhaps rubber band is a better analogy. Duke would close, Tech would re-extend the lead and so forth.
Duke appeared to have gained some measure of control in the middle of the second half, using a 16-5 run to take a 53-47 lead, Duke's biggest of the evening. Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Mason Plumlee keyed the run.
But the wheels came off. Duke scored only five points in the final six minutes, while Tech made the plays it had to make, including some daggers from beyond the arc. Duke missed 3s, free throws, lay-ups, stickbacks, even dunks. Equal opportunity futility. The final minute was excruciating, as Duke kept getting the ball down by three and kept coming up empty.
There are more than a few fingers to point. Singler and Smith had pretty solid games and Mason Plumlee did some nice things.
But Duke never could get much from the other guys. Seth Curry had an absolutely miserable game, fouling out in a woeful 15 minutes. Ryan Kelly wasn't far behind. The duo combined for 1-for-8 from the field, with Kelly's first-half lay-up the only points scored by the pair. Andre Dawkins continued his offensive revival with a couple of 3s but neither Miles Plumlee nor Tyler Thornton contributed much.
Devotees of the deep-bench-school-of-thought might note that Tech's thin bench gave them all of seven minutes. All of Tech's starters played at least 37 minutes, with Malcolm Delaney going 40 minutes. Yet, it was Delaney who buried a huge 3 with two minutes left that put Tech up 62-57. He sure didn't look tired.
Actually, Duke did a pretty job on Delaney, holding the ACC's second-leading scorer to 11 points. But Jeff Allen dominated inside, with 18 points and 15 rebounds. ACC observers have long wondered what the talented but inconsistent Allen could do with better effort and focus and he seems to have figured it out.
But the key to Tech's win may have been the other three starters, Terrell Bell, Erick Green and Victor Davila, who combined for 35 points and 19 rebounds. Not to put too fine a point on it but when one team has five double-figure scorers and the other has two, the outcome is likely to swing in the direction of balance.
So, maybe it was a case of Tech's role players being better than Duke's role players. Or maybe it was Tech's 42-35 rebounding edge, 14-9 on the offensive glass. A fair number of big VT baskets came after an offensive rebound.
Ultimately, did Duke match Tech's intensity? It's easy to blame a lack of effort from the comfort of your living room. And the rebounding stats seem to support that viewpoint.
But I don't want to go all Ademola Okulaja on you. Sometimes, the other team wins because they made plays you didn't. Shoot 39 percent from the field and get outrebounded by seven on the road and your margin of error is pretty small. Too small for Duke last night.
You might recall Duke had a very similar outing late last season at College Park and more than a few Duke folks were convinced that the Terps had exposed some fatal flaws.
We know how that turned out. So, we'll see.
The loss drops Duke's ACC record over Virginia Tech to 7-3, 3-2 at Cassell. Duke had won four straight in the rivalry.
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