Virginia Tech played #7 Duke close on Saturday afternoon, but it wasn’t quite enough. The Blue Devils walked out of Cassell Coliseum with a 72-65 win. The Hokies dropped to 17-11 overall and 7-7 in the ACC with the loss, and they lost a golden opportunity to help their chances for an NCAA tournament berth.
Hank Thorns missed the game with an illness, and as a result Malcolm Delaney had to play the point guard position for the entire game. Not able to play off the ball, Delaney struggled, scoring just seven points on 2-of-12 shooting. He was 0-of-6 from three-point range. He did dish out eight assists, but he was never able to get comfortable. It was the first game this season in which Delaney did not score in double figures.
The star of the game for the Hokies was A.D. Vassallo, who finished with 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting. He was 4-of-8 from three-point range, and he scored 21 points in the second half. He also pulled down 10 rebounds. Despite Vassallo’s efforts, the Hokies never led. Though they tied the game late in the second half, they could never get over the hump.
Jeff Allen scored 13 points and had five rebounds, while J.T. Thompson came off the bench to finish with 13 points and seven rebounds. However, the Hokies hit just two of their first 13 shots from the floor, fell down by as many as 16 points, and couldn’t complete the comeback.
The difference in the game was three-point shooting and turnovers. After shooting the lights out from the outside on the road against Clemson, Tech was just 4-of-16 against Duke. Vassallo hit all four of Tech’s outside shots. The Hokies also had 19 turnovers to Duke’s nine. Those two shortcomings were enough to offset a 39-28 advantage for the Hokies in rebounding.
Virginia Tech got off to a very slow start offensively. They didn’t score until A.D. Vassallo hit a jumper at the 16:52 mark of the first half to make the score 4-2 Duke, and they were still stuck on 16 points with less than six minutes remaining in the first half.
The Hokies were able to cut the lead to nine points down the stretch of the first half, but a last second jumper by Gerald Henderson made the score 36-25 heading into the halftime intermission. Tech couldn’t handle Henderson in the first half. He scored 17 points in the first half on 8-of-13 shooting. He was 0-of-7 in the second half when the Hokies made defensive adjustments, but it was too late.
Despite the bad start, Tech made a huge rally in the second half. A three-pointer by A.D. Vassallo at the 5:59 mark made the score 58-58, and the Hokies had all the momentum. However, VT had two chances to take the lead and they couldn’t convert, and Duke hit four straight free throws to take a 62-58 lead with 3:50 remaining in the game.
After Vassallo’s three-pointer to tie it up, the Hokies didn’t score again until there was 1:12 remaining in the game. Despite that slump, they still had a chance. Up 68-65 with under 20 seconds remaining, Duke inbounded to Jon Scheyer underneath the basket. Scheyer caught the pass in the lane, was doubled by two Hokies, and without taking a dribble, he ended up out of the lane. Despite the obvious walk, which the announces pointed out on television, Duke was able to call a timeout.
Duke inbounded after the timeout, and Scheyer was fouled. He hit both free throws to make the score 70-65 with 14 seconds remaining, and that was the ballgame.
Virginia Tech returns to action on Wednesday night when they host North Carolina. Tip-off is scheduled for 7pm, and the game will be televised by ESPN.