Blacksburg, Virginia is a lovely college town, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwestern Virginia.
But it’s become something of a house-of-horrors recently for Duke basketball, at least the Cassell Coliseum portion of the Virginia Tech campus. The Hokies defeated Duke 77-72 Tuesday night, the third consecutive Virginia Tech win over Duke in Blacksburg.
Duke was even more short-handed against VT then against Syracuse Saturday. R.J. Barrett was under the weather and still cobbled together 36 minutes. Cam Reddish took a hard fall but soldiered on.
“I didn’t even know he was sick until the game started,” Mike Krzyzewski said of Barrett. “It was something that just came up. They are human beings who work hard and have a lot of stress on them. RJ was sick the whole first half. That’s why we were subbing him. He went back in and that’s just the way it is.”
The Blue Devils shot 50 percent from the field, 79 percent from the foul line and out-rebounded Virginia Tech 29-28.
But Duke may miss Zion Williamson as much on the defensive end of the floor as on the offensive. Kerry Blackshear, Tech’s only significant big man, dominated the interior,a game-high 23 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, some huge offensive rebounds in the second half. Duke was only able to force six turnovers and was called for 20 fouls, sending Tech to the foul line 29 times. They made 23 free throws, eight more than Duke (15-for-19) and that was the difference in the game.
Krzyzewski and Reddish both cited defensive shortcomings.
“You don’t leave a ball side corner,” Krzyzewski said, “but I’m not going to blame one kid. Overall our defense was good against a really tough team with Blackshear. But once we started the game it was obvious that we weren’t getting our normal movements offensively and defensively.”
“We weren’t rotating fast enough,” Reddish added. “We were where we needed to be but we just weren’t fast enough and they made tough shots and it was a hard fought game.”
Duke never trailed by much and even led a few times, the last at 42-41, early in the second half. But Tech finished the first half on a 12-8 run, not a decisive run but enough to give them a 37-34 lead they tenaciously protected in the second half.
Duke has spent the last few weeks digging itself a first-half hole and usually digging out from underneath it.
Not so, this time. Duke led that one time and tied it at 59-59 and 70-70.
“It happens sometimes,” Barrett said. “We played really hard throughout the whole game and we are going through some different things. Last game against Syracuse it was a similar situation when we pulled it out, but today was just different.”
The decisive turn came in the final 90 seconds, Ty Outlaw breaking that 70-70 tie with a three, Cam Reddish missing the answer for Duke. Blackshear got one of those huge offensive rebounds and Tech made all four of its foul shots in the final 20 seconds.
“Our guys played hard man,” Krzyzewski summed up. “They played hard and tough and we just lost a real tough game. We’ve got to get back and get refreshed.”
Barrett led Duke with 21 points, four more than Reddish.
Barrett now has 20 or more points 21 times this season.
Marques Bolden came off the bench for 14 points but grabbed only two rebounds. Reddish and Tre Jones led Duke with six rebounds. But Duke had more turnovers (12) than assists (11), never a winning stat.
This was Duke’s first true road loss this season. With three ACC losses (12-3), Duke will now need some help to claim the ACC title.
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Alex O’ Connell
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