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Thoughts On Duke’s Sweet Sixteen Win Over Virginia Tech

Duke was careless at the end and lucky to move on

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Virginia Tech vs Duke
Mar 29, 2019; Washington, DC, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies guard Justin Robinson (5) shoots the ball against Duke Blue Devils forward Javin DeLaurier (12) during the second half in the semifinals of the east regional of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Capital One Arena. 
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Duke beat Virginia Tech in yet another incredibly close game, the fourth game that has come down to the last possession late in the season (Wake Forest at home, followed by UNC in the ACC Tournament and UCF, before Ahmad Hill missed the tying basket Friday evening).

First, all praise to what Buzz Williams has accomplished at Blacksburg. Not to be snide, but he has finally made Virginia Tech into a legitimate ACC program. Duke had to reach deep to beat them.

That said, Duke made several key mistakes down the stretch and while you can’t call missed free throws a mistake exactly, if Tre Jones had nailed his, Duke would have had a four-point lead on Virginia Tech’s final possession. And if a few more mistakes could have been avoided. To quote Jim Sumner’s game report:

“They made mistakes.

“Duke somehow forgot about Blackshear, who hit the chippie, making it 75-71.

“Williamson was called for a charge with 38 seconds left.

“Jones fouled Robinson, who made it a two-point game with two from the line.

“Jones was fouled and surprisingly missed the first end of the bonus, setting up another of those cardiac finishes that seems to have characterized Duke’s 2019 season.”

It’s called game management and Duke did it poorly against Virginia Tech.

If those plays had been managed correctly, Duke could have had 79 points at the buzzer and the last-gasp miss by Ahmad Hill to tie would have been irrelevant.

That won’t work against Michigan State, one of the mentally toughest teams left.

Duke’s depth also took a hit with the weird injury to Cam Reddish. Reddish is still prone to indiscriminate drives which get him in foul trouble but he has two superb qualities that really help Duke: first, he’s an underrated defender. And second, even on days when he’s not shooting well he shoots well when Duke’s in trouble.

Come to think of it, our list of games that came down to the last possession should include Florida State, where Cam Reddish hit a last second dagger to do in the ‘Noles in Tallahassee.

We noticed that Alex O’ Connell was rebounding well against Virginia Tech but we never would have guessed he was Duke’s leading rebounder. His contributions went a bit under the radar.

All of Duke’s starters, other than Javin DeLaurier, went at least 35 minutes with Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Tre Jones playing the full 40.

Jack White did play after his hamstring injury but just three minutes.

White and Reddish are important players for Duke and it would really be helpful if they’re ready to go against Michigan State. Like Duke, the Spartans are banged up and have shown tremendous fortitude. Coach K is 11-1 lifetime vs. Tom Izzo but toss that out the window. This Michigan State team has shown incredible heart. We’ll look at them more closely later.

We don’t have the clip right now but it’s floating around Twitter: it’s a bit of John Thompson on the radio at loss for words on Zion Williamson’s dunk of Tre Jones’ alley-oop in the second half. He just couldn’t figure out what to say about that. We know what he was thinking, but you can’t stay those words on the radio and keep your job.

Remember how, before the game, the Hokies said their plan was to keep Williamson out of the paint and force him to shoot threes?

Yeah, not so much.

Williamson finished a fairly standard (for him) 11-14 with just two three pointers. And while we could never prove this, and we doubt Hill would admit it even if it were true, we think it is: on his last attempt, he knew that Williamson was near by and he saw his three powerful blocks earlier in the game.

There was the one stunning block on Kerry Blackshear and the one he pulled off on Justin Robinson after Robinson thought he had beaten him to the basket.

The difference between Aubrey Dawkins miss in the UCF game and Hill’s Friday night is that Hill, knowing Williamson was close by, rushed it. What he didn’t understand is that Williamson knew that wouldn’t be a game winner - it would put it in overtime - so he didn’t take a chance on fouling.

That’s why, as immense as his physical talent is, Williamson’s basketball IQ may be more critical.

Go back to that linked block above and look at just when Williamson commits to it. Blackshear never saw him coming but Williamson was stalking him all along. The guy never had a chance.

With Williamson in his head, neither did Hill.

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