Virginia Tech hung around and limited turnovers against No. 7 Duke on Monday in Blacksburg but needed more defensively in a 77-67 loss.
“Sometimes the other team plays better than you do,” Tech head coach Mike Young said, “and they played better than we did, obviously. We didn’t rebound very well. We had our shots and squandered some opportunities. But I tip my cap on this particular evening to their team, to their players, Jon [Scheyer].”
The Hokies (13-8, 5-5 ACC) struggled to slow down the Blue Devils (16-4, 7-2), who entered the game ranked 12th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric and shot 55 percent, a season-best in ACC play, while averaging 1.18 points per possession. It was the third-best shooting night by a Tech opponent on the season behind Florida Atlantic (57%) and South Carolina (56%).
Tech endured a field goal drought of 7:30 in the first half and trailed by 11 but cut the deficit to six at halftime 35-29. MJ Collins almost single-handedly kept Tech in the game during that stretch with 13 first-half points. He finished with a team-high 17 on 7-of-13 shooting.
As fine as Tech was offensively, though — it shot 45 percent for the game (26-of-58) and turned it over just four times, a season-low — Duke was better.
It shot 53 percent from three, its second-best mark on the year, spearheaded by the trio of Jeremy Roach, Tyrese Proctor and Caleb Foster. They combined for eight of the team’s nine treys on 17 attempts, with Jared McCain adding one.
“They set that top ball screen, which is difficult,” Young said. “And our coverages, we’ve now got to help in, which makes it difficult, they’re spraying the thing out to whoever else is off the ball. They had a couple of offensive rebounds, sprayed it onto the perimeter for made threes in the first half.”
The Blue Devils used their ball-screen action to perfection and got downhill, forcing the Hokies to rotate frequently. A defense that had not allowed an opponent to shoot better than 37 percent from three in ACC play gave up 53 percent against Duke.
Part of that had to do with the effort of Scheyer’s group on the offensive glass. It had 10 offensive rebounds, which led to 15 second-chance points, and outrebounded Tech by 18, 38-20. It tied the worst rebounding margin in the Young era, which was also against Duke in his first season in 2019-20.
“A lot of that was us in rotation,” Young said. “We’re in rotation, shot goes up and we don’t have a guard chipping down to take that, and that’s easier said than done. … And all of that is created by dribble penetration a lot of times.”
The Hokies limited Kyle Filipowski’s offensive game and got him into some foul trouble. The preseason AP All-American, who averages 18 points per game, was limited to 14 but corralled eight boards.
Duke’s guards were tough to handle, however. Roach was arguably the best player on the floor with 16 points, four 3-pointers and four assists. Two of his threes came at the perfect time for the Blue Devils.
At the end of the first half, he made what Scheyer called the most important play of the game when he knocked down a triple from the wing off an offensive rebound from Sean Stewart. With 14:07 to play in the second half and Tech trailing by three, he responded with a trey of his own, pushing the Hokies away for good.
Around him, Proctor scored 12, Foster recorded eight and McCain posted nine (and 10 rebounds). On the interior, Ryan Young had 10 points and five rebounds off the bench. Mark Mitchell added eight points and eight boards.
For Virginia Tech, Collins was the No. 1 weapon early in the contest as Sean Pedulla and Hunter Cattoor — who entered Monday averaging a combined 30 points per game — were held to eight in the first half. Pedulla didn’t have a basket, scoring all of his points from the foul line, while Cattoor’s two came on backdoor cuts and dunks at the rim. Young said the Blue Devils took the Hokies out of some of their actions.
Duke’s defense on Tech’s two impact players was terrific, especially Cattoor. While Pedulla, who had the ball in his hands more often as he ran the offense, missed some threes he’s shown the ability to hit, the Blue Devils didn’t give Cattoor anything and ran him off the 3-point arc. Proctor hounded him while they switched Filipowski onto him on occasion. Young described Proctor’s length as “bothersome.”
“They really don’t give you an easy look,” Cattoor said. “You really don’t have a split second, and even if you do, if you have that split second where you’re open, you have to make a quick decision. They do a good job of just kind of making the game uneasy and not letting me get in my rhythm.
“Obviously, we took advantage of them topping me and were able to get a couple of backdoors and things like that, so I think that kind of loosened it up for us, but they do a good job of kind of communicating, switching out and taking us out of our actions. I think we just need to be better after that action we have, getting into our motion offense and still being hard to guard after those first 15 seconds of the possession.”
Cattoor ended the game with 15 points and was 3-of-5 in the second half with two treys, and Pedulla scored 12, with six assists to just one giveaway. But he was 0-of-6 from behind the arc and missed in some key spots that could’ve given the Hokies a lift.
Lynn Kidd was Tech’s other double-figure scorer with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Mylyjael Poteat chipped in four points and six rebounds, which came just two days after that duo scored 18 apiece against Georgia Tech. Robbie Beran had seven points, three assists and two boards.
Tech was just 27 percent from long range, its second-worst percentage in ACC play this season behind a 25 percent mark against Louisville back in December, a game it won thanks to 36 points in the paint. Coincidentally, 36 of its points came from the inside against Duke, but it needed more on the other end against a top-10 team.
Halfway through the year, Tech sits at 5-5 in league play after winning three of its last four. At the beginning of the week, it was the fourth-highest-ranked ACC squad in the NET at 45. It’ll have a few opportunities for résumé-building wins left, starting on Saturday at Miami, along with trips to Chapel Hill and Pittsburgh.
But in front of the home crowd, Big Monday felt like a golden ticket in some ways. The Hokies came up just a tad short against one of the country’s best.
“You can’t really look in the past, you can’t really look in the future,” Cattoor said. “You have to stay grounded. We’re 5-5. You kind of just have to take it as it is and move on. We’ll get ready for Miami. We’ll improve from this game, but we made strides this past week with these three games.”
Box Score: No. 7 Duke 77, Virginia Tech 67
— David Cunningham (@therealdcunna) January 30, 2024