BLACKSBURG, Va. — As Virginia Tech stumbled through the month of January, losing six of its seven games, the Hokies could always take solace that they were playing teams close. On Thursday night, however, Coach Seth Greenberg’s bunch hit rock bottom.
Virginia Tech suffered its most lopsided defeat of the season, losing to No. 7 Duke, 75-60. And for a second straight game, the Hokies did not have a lead.
To make matters worse, Virginia Tech’s 1-6 conference record is tied for its worst start to ACC play since it joined the conference in 2004.
After the game, Greenberg didn’t mince words about his young team. He pointed specifically to how the team handled adversity in key moments. The Blue Devils went on a 17-4 run right before halftime and a 10-0 surge midway through the second half to put the contest out of reach.
“When they kind of bowed their neck,” Greenberg said, “I thought we melted.”
Freshman guard Austin Rivers led Duke in scoring, hitting 4 of 6 three-pointers to finish with a game-high 18 points. Forward Ryan Kelly added 15 points as a reserve; he was part of a 34-13 advantage the Blue Devils had in bench scoring.
Virginia Tech forward Victor Davila tied his career high with 16 points and guard Erick Green added 17, but it wasn’t enough for the Hokies to avoid a fourth straight home loss and their seventh defeat in the past eight games.
No statistics, however, could describe what the Hokies were lacking on this night. After losing five games by four points or fewer during this month-long slide, Virginia Tech (12-10, 1-6) struggled to muster a response when Duke asserted its will.
“Everybody has to learn when things don’t go our way, instead of putting our heads down and just giving up, we got to get that fight in us and keep going,” Green said.
Early on, though, the Hokies seemed energized by the second sellout crowd of the season at Cassell Coliseum and both teams played with an edge their coaches trotted out new starting fives.
Greenberg made his third lineup change in five games, with freshman Marquis Rankin starting at point guard to free Green to play off the ball. Slumping forward Dorian Finney-Smith — who has missed 25 straight shots and gone without a field goal the past six games following another scoreless showing Thursday — also started after coming off the bench at Maryland last weekend.
But the Blue Devils (19-3, 6-1) closed the first half by scoring on eight of their final 10 possessions and took a 10-point lead into halftime. Duke then got points on seven of its first eight possessions in the second half as its lead ballooned to 22 points.
In the immediate aftermath, Greenberg had no choice but to acknowledge the harsh reality facing him and his team.
“I didn’t like the way we dealt with those mini-setbacks. To me, that’s not who we’ve been for eight years,” he said. “For eight years, we’ve had maybe a stronger, tougher [team].”