Virginia Tech lost, 85-57, in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated. But after 17 defeats this season, the Hokies took little solace in merely being competitive.
“It’s encouraging and it’s bad,” said point guard Erick Green, who finished with a game-high 25 points. “It’s encouraging, the fact that we can hang with these guys. But it’s bad [because] we didn’t put a 40-minute game together. We’re tired of going through the same thing over and over again, that we don’t put it together and we end up with this result.”
Duke (26-4, 13-4 ACC) closed the night on a 20-2 run to extinguish any doubts as to which team is headed to the NCAA tournament and which team sits in last place in the ACC standings. But early on, Virginia Tech (13-17, 4-13) was the aggressor.
The Hokies, who had won two of their previous three games, jumped to an 8-1 advantage when junior Jarell Eddie (13 points) hit consecutive three-pointers to begin the game. He had missed his previous 12 attempts from three-point range. Even once Duke regained the lead for good, on a three-pointer by former DeMatha All-Met Quinn Cook (14 points) with less than five minutes remaining before halftime, Virginia Tech wouldn’t wilt.
It entered halftime down by just three after Green nailed his only three-pointer of the night, and outrebounded the bigger Blue Devils in the first half. It was all the more impressive considering Duke’s Ryan Kelly, who returned to the lineup from injury on Saturday and promptly scored 36 points in a win over No. 5 Miami, picked up where he left off with 14 first-half points.
“We had guys playing with confidence. Guys came out and truly wanted to play. We were just having fun out there,” said Eddie, who finished in double figures for just the second time in nine games. “We just couldn’t finish at the end.”
Spurred by its seniors, though, Duke ensured there would be few tense moments in the waning moments of its final home game. The Blue Devils pounded the ball inside to center Mason Plumlee (14 points) and guard Seth Curry (20 points) nailed two of his five three-pointers as Duke opened the second half on a 13-4 spurt.
Virginia Tech again struggled defending three-pointers, allowing the Blue Devils to hit 12 of their 23 attempts from long range by continually going under Duke’s ball screens. With centers Cadarian Raines and Joey van Zegeren both in foul trouble all night — they played a combined 26 minutes — the Hokies were also outrebounded, 22-10, in the second half.
“As the game went on, I thought we got tired. I thought our legs got to us a little bit,” Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson said.
Eddie managed to trim the deficit to six on a three-pointer with 12 minutes 36 seconds to go, but it was all Blue Devils from there. Green, the nation’s leading scorer, matched his season average, but admitted Duke’s defensive strategy — a cavalcade of defenders face-guarded him all the way up the floor — was the best he went against all season.
The Hokies managed just one field goal over the final six minutes, a fact Johnson couldn’t escape despite the progress made.
“We were a better team than what played in Blacksburg in the first game . . . but we’re not in it for moral victories,” he said.