Nobody would call Duke's win over Virginia Tech a work of art, but games are decided by who has the most points, not the most artistic plays. And Duke had more, so they advance to play Florida State on Saturday.
Duke played without Ryan Kelly, and that means that other people had to step up. Nobody stepped up more than Tyler Thornton, who, in a strange way, Duke fans take for granted.
Thornton finished with 13 points and for the first (and possibly last) time in his career, took more shots than any of his teammates. For you compulsive gamblers, you could have won some money betting that Thornton would take more shots than Austin Rivers.
He also had four rebounds and three steals.
Kelly averages 11.8 ppg and 5.4 boards. Thornton effectively replaced him offensively. He can't defend a post player, but otherwise, who else is blown away? We didn't expect him to be that guy - Rivers, Seth Curry or Andre Dawkins, sure. Thornton? Didn't see it coming at all. But he did it.
Back to the underrated thing. This was a big all-around game for him; normally he is a defensive stalwart and a pass-first point guard. Duke fans kind of take his game for granted already because he is so quietly steady and because on-ball defense doesn't always leap out at you, with the exception of a freak defender like Billy King.
It's not really fair because Thornton, despite alleged shortcomings in his game, allows Duke a lot of luxuries: he can guard bigger players, or smaller, he allows Curry and Rivers and Dawkins to play to their strengths, and he is a very effective leader. Watch the team at time out sometime - you'll see he's the verbal one, the guy who cajoles, pushes and rewards.
He has a future in coaching in other words.
Offensively, Duke didn't do that well overall. Tech chose to focus heavily on Mason Plumlee, at times triple-teaming him, and while he may not have made good decisions every time, he was still 4-6. No one else shot particularly well.
Rivers was 5-14, Curry 2-6,Â Dawkins 0-5 and Miles Plumlee just took two shots, hitting one, although he was the guy who knocked the ball out to where Rivers could chase it down for his late, clinching layup.
By the way, despite clearly wanting to do well against his parents' alma mater, Curry has yet to have a solid outing against the Hokies, though he played very well for part of the second half in this one.
Defensively, Duke did some really nice work: they held Cadarian Raines to just one shot from the floor - he tormented the Devils in Cameron, remember - Jarell Eddie to 1-3, Dorenzo Hudson to 3-9, and Erick Green to 3-16. Dorian Finney-Smith was just 2-7, but his usefulness is not predicated on scoring (he finished with 12 boards for one thing).
But Duke pitched a shutout for eight minutes in the second half and while the Hokies were game, they ultimately couldn't overcome a feckless offense.
So Duke moves on to Round Three with Florida State, after the 'Noles knocked off Miami, and the winner of that one gets the winner of State-UNC.
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