Date: Tuesday, January 12
TV: The ACC Network
Two days removed from its comeback victory over Notre Dame, No. 20 Virginia Tech (9-2, 3-1) welcomes No. 19 Duke (5-2, 3-0) to Blacksburg.
After falling behind 42-35 at halftime against the Fighting Irish, it looked like the Hokies could be heading towards a second straight loss for the first time this season. However, Tech put together its most complete half of the year in the final 20 minutes, scoring 42 points and holding Notre Dame to just two field goals.
The Hokies hope to continue that trend against the Blue Devils, who have had a disjointed season up to this point. After starting the season 2-2, with losses to Michigan State and Illinois, three of Duke’s next four games were either postponed or cancelled.
After beating Notre Dame on Dec. 16, Duke didn’t see the hardwood again until Jan. 6 when the Blue Devils won a nail biter against Boston College in Durham. Duke played again on Saturday, beating Wake Forest handily in Cameron Indoor, 79-68.
Duke had to pull out its 83-82 win over the Eagles without legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski on the bench as he was dealing with COVID-19 issues. However, he was cleared just hours before the Blue Devil’s game against Wake and will be good to go in Blacksburg on Wednesday.
As is typically the case with Duke teams, the Blue Devils are extremely young, as four of their top seven scorers are freshman.
This starts with guard D.J. Steward who is averaging 14 points per game. The Chicago-native was the third-highest rated Duke player in the 2020 class by 247Sports, but has possibly been the most productive. He’s coming off of a 21-point outing against the Demon Deacons.
However, Duke’s top player this year isn’t a one-and-done. Sophomore Matthew Hurt has been one of the best in the country through the Blue Devils’ first seven games. He currently leads the ACC in points per game with 19.6 and ranks fifth in the conference averaging 8.1 rebounds. The six-foot-nine forward will be a tough matchup for the Hokies and should see a combination of Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts.
Tech could be short-handed in the frontcourt as Cordell Pemsl has missed the last two games with a back injury. Sophomore John Ojiako has also been slow to recover from his preseason knee injury, only seeing one minute against Louisville before missing Sunday’s contest.
Duke star freshman Jalen Johnson will be in uniform against the Hokies on Tuesday after he was injured earlier this season against Illinois. However, how much he’ll be able to play in his first game back remains unclear. The young forward was Duke’s top recruit in this year’s class and averaged 11.5 points and 8.3 rebounds before getting hurt.
The Hokies will rely heavily on the play of their sophomore backcourt once again, led by Jalen Cone. After being held scoreless against Clemson, Cone is averaging just under 18 points per game over the last five contests off of the bench.
He’ll be complemented by Nahiem Alleyne and Hunter Cattoor, who have both proven to be formidable scoring threats at times this year. Alleyne is one of three Hokies averaging double figures, while Cattoor is coming off of his best offensive game of the year against the Irish. The sophomore from Orlando had 15 points, his most against an ACC opponent in his career.
Tech is no stranger to victory when the Blue Devils travel up to Blacksburg. The Hokies have won three of the last five games against Duke in Cassell Coliseum. However, Duke did sweep the series last year, both by double digits.
Only five teams in the conference currently have three ACC wins, both of these teams among them. A win over the Blue Devils would be a huge step for the Hokies as they attempt to build an NCAA Tournament resume.