No. 20 Virginia Tech (10-2, 4-1) never trailed in its third win of the season over a ranked opponent, beating No. 19 Duke (5-3, 3-1) 74-67 in Cassell Coliseum on Tuesday night.
“I’ve got a pretty good team, let’s not beat around the bush,” Head Coach Mike Young said. “I think we have a chance to be really good, but we’re not really good right now. I don’t think it’s anything more complicated than that.”
This is the Hokies’ fourth win in Blacksburg over the Blue Devils in five years, but the first in Young’s tenure. Tech beat Duke at home in each of Buzz Williams’ final three years at the helm of the program.
“I feel like both teams are talented, but we’re getting close to it. We’re there,” redshirt-sophomore Tyrece Radford said.
The Hokies dominated the first half, making over 60% of their shots from the floor and leading 46-34 at the break. Over half of Tech’s points came in the paint in the first twenty minutes as they rolled out to an early lead.
“I thought the ball really moved and we had a nice level of inside-to-outside, Cone got two big threes down, we got a couple of second shots and I thought we moved really well in transition,” Young said. “Duke basketball has hung its hat on that defensive end for quite some time, so that was certainly a pleasure to watch.”
Duke stormed back early in the second half, outscoring Tech 21-10 over the first seven minutes of the frame. The Blue Devils made eight of their first 12 shots after halftime, including eight straight points from ACC leading-scorer Matthew Hurt to cut the Hokies’ lead to one.
“I didn’t want to call timeout when Duke took off on us in the second half, and part of that was by design,” Young said. “I wanted to see us figure it out and fight through it.”
The Tech defense locked down after that, allowing the Blue Devils to score just nine points in the next 13 minutes of game time. Duke made just four of its final 22 shots to end the game, including the last-second three-pointer when the game was already decided.
“I have a very good defensive team,” Young said. “We have guys that can guard you that are really smart players. They’re not afraid to sit in their stance and guard you.”
Tech was led in the first half by Radford, who posted his first double-double of the season. The Louisiana native dropped in 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the first frame and finished with 18 and 12, both leading the team.
“My energy was different, and I just left everything on the court tonight,” Radford said. “I kept my team motivated and kept pushing them, telling them to play to win and don’t play not to lose.”
In the second half, it was the Keve Aluma show. After Duke had cut the Hokies’ lead to just 54-52, Aluma scored 11 of Tech’s next 14 points to stretch the lead back to nine. Tech’s leading scorer on the year finished with 13 second-half points to help the Hokies finally pull away. He finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, and also came away with a critical block late in the game.
“I covet a player that you can throw the ball to in the post and expect something positive to happen,” Young said. “It was just enormous. It’s starting to tighten up and Duke locks in a bit more defensively and on the perimeter. To be able to put that thing down there to that big rascal and let him do his thing is a real luxury.”
Jalen Cone had another double-digit scoring night, finishing with 14 points. He knocked down three of his five shots from long range and continued to build his resume to be the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year.
“He’s so quick and so small, he can always get his shot off. When he’s up, it’s up there because he jumps so high off of the ground,” Radford said. “I’m not sure how I would guard him either.”
Despite the loss, Duke got great performances from its stars once again. Hurt had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds, exceeding his averages on the season, which both rank in the top-five in the conference.
The Blue Devils’ freshman backcourt also had a big night as Roach and D.J. Steward combined for 36 points. Outside of those three players in double-digits, the rest of the Duke lineup combined for just 11 points.
The Hokies are now the first team in the ACC with four conference wins, and their next two opponents are a combined 1-8 in league-play. Tech’s resume continues to grow in Young’s second year with the program.
“We have the potential to make a run for [a championship],” Radford said. “We just have to make sure we stay level-headed and don’t get a big head or anything. We just have to stay humble.”
After playing two games in three days, Tech gets a few days off to prepare for a trip to Winston-Salem to play Wake Forest. Then, the Hokies will welcome Boston College to Blacksburg one week from Wednesday.