Virginia Tech gave a noble effort in the first half, but #3 Duke’s talent, depth and experience won out in the second half in an 81-64 victory for the visiting Blue Devils in Cassell Coliseum on Thursday night. The Hokies dropped to 11-8 overall and 2-3 in the ACC with the loss, while Duke improved to 16-1 and 4-0.
Playing without star freshman Jeff Allen, and at times playing with four other freshmen on the court at the same time, Tech gave Duke a great run in the first half, trailing just 42-38 at halftime, and 42-41 early in the second half. However the Blue Devils gradually pulled away with a balanced offensive attack.
Despite the loss, there were some bright spots for the Hokies. Freshman forward J.T. Thompson set his career-high in points (13) and rebounds (eight). Thompson made the first start of his career with Allen suspended, and responded well in 25 minutes of action. He was 6-of-8 from the field.
Freshman forward Terrell Bell also set his career-high in points (9) and rebounds (5). He also contributed two assists, two steals and just one turnover in 23 minutes of action. A.D. Vassallo led the Hokies with 16 points and nine rebounds. Deron Washington added 12 points and seven boards.
Another bright spot was rebounding. Despite not having their top rebounder in Jeff Allen, who is fourth in the ACC at 8.1 rebounds per game, the Hokies out-rebounded Duke 38-36, and grabbed 12 offensive boards in the process.
Two things in this game eventually caught up with the Hokies. First, they committed 22 turnovers, while Duke had just 12. The Blue Devils outscored Tech 25-9 in points off turnovers.
Secondly, Tech was just 2-of-13 from three-point range for 15.4%. A.D. Vassallo was 2-of-5 from the outside, nailing both of Tech’s shots. Duke was 8-of-22 for 36.4%, slightly lower than their normal percentage of 38.7%, but still much better than the Hokies.
The Hokies started the game off pretty well, taking their first and only lead on an A.D. Vassallo three-pointer to make the score 5-4. Vassallo was fouled on the play, but missed the free throw. After that, Duke seemed to take control of the first half, going on a 17-5 run that put them up 21-10 with 10:56 remaining in the first half.
At that point, Duke was executing well, the Hokies were playing poorly on offense, and it looked like the Blue Devils were going to get out of Blacksburg without much of a fight. However, Virginia Tech’s young team responded with their backs against the wall, as they’ve done time and time again this year when they found themselves down by double digits.
Tech stopped the bleeding and played Duke even for the next five minutes, trailing 34-24 on a Gerald Henderson three-pointer with 4:59 left in the half. Then the Hokies kicked it in gear to close the half, going on a 14-5 run that brought them within one. The score was 39-38 Duke with 55 seconds left in the half. Tech’s freshmen sparked the run, scoring 10 of the 14 points. J.T. Thompson capped the run with a thunderous dunk on the fast break.
Duke scored the final bucket of the half, a three-pointer by Taylor King, to take a 42-38 lead into halftime. The Hokies had to feel good about their run to end the half, and they felt even better after the first possession of the second half.
The Hokies ran a set play to Vassallo, and the junior forward rolled off a screen and drained a three-pointer from the wing, cutting the Duke lead to 42-41 just a few ticks into the second half. However, that’s as close as Virginia Tech came.
Duke was relentless, and eventually their experience and suffocating defense took its toll on Tech’s young team. The Blue Devils pulled away, and by the 13:20 mark, they were up by 10 again, this time following a jumper from Gerald Henderson. The Hokies were never able to cut the lead to single digits again.
Virginia Tech has a quick turnaround, as they hop on a chartered flight to Boston Friday for a Saturday afternoon matchup with Boston College. The Eagles have had the entire week to prepare, and the Hokies will still be without Jeff Allen, so things won’t get any easier. Tip-off is scheduled for 4pm, and the game will be televised by Raycom Sports. It will also be available on the internet on ACCSelect.