Duke has struggled this season with falling flat halfway through the game—losing its first half lead, as well as its energy, in the second half of losses to North Carolina and St. John's this month. Wednesday, however, the opposite happened.

After failing to find a rhythm until the end of the first half—when they went on a 7-0 run for the last couple of minutes—the Blue Devils' chances of turning the game into a rout looked slim. Virginia Tech was looking hot coming off of a 61-60 overtime road win against Virginia, so this ACC matchup was an important one for Duke to regain its confidence after dropping three of its previous five games.

Senior captain Grayson Allen and his teammates answered the bell, coming out of the halftime locker room with energy that hasn't been seen a lot this season. 

“We’ve done this in the past—where we've come out of the first half and gone into halftime with the lead and come out of halftime flat,” sophomore Javin DeLaurier said. “We were pretty determined to not let that happen today. So, we really stressed just coming out, jumping on them and really try to stress the lead a little bit so we can play a full 40 minutes of basketball.”

This young Blue Devil team has struggled to find a consistent rhythm and maintain its focus
for entire games this season—either playing well in the first half and not the second, or vice versa.

“So we’ve just been trying to put those two together,” freshman Wendell Carter Jr. said. “And I think it’s starting to come together right now.”

Without its star big man down low—Marvin Bagley III—Duke struggled to find an open man in the post in the first half, and for most of the second as well. Eight of the team’s 12 first-half made field goals were from beyond the arc. Coupled with eight first-half turnovers, Duke finished the first half with 36 points, only eight ahead of the Hokies.

The team had a renewed energy upon its return to the court.

Carter was down low playing off his double teams to find open teammates like DeLaurier. Allen got hot from deep, making back-to-back triples to break the game open and ending the contest 7-of-15 from 3-point land. Freshmen Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval assisted Allen from beyond the arc, resulting in the team as a whole going 15-of-33 from the 3-point line. 

“Coach told us today that Gary and Grayson would have to shoot a lot of threes because they were very focused on our post,” Duval said. “They double-teamed Wendell Carter almost every time. That left a lot of open shots for the perimeter. Coach said, shoot as many shots as you have to shoot because you're going to be open.”

The team did just that, taking advantage of its hot streak to pull away from the Hokies and saving Duke fans everywhere from the stress of a last-minute comeback. 

The Blue Devils were able to keep Virginia Tech to 52 points on the game—its lowest output all season. This could be attributed to the zone Duke played all game, as well as the heart and hustle by post players like DeLaurier and Carter. 

"We will play a lot more zone. That’ll be pretty much our primary defense, complemented by man," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We’ve got to keep figuring it out before March."

Carter had 13 rebounds on the game to prevent second-chance opportunities, while DeLaurier was 3-of-3 from the field and had a pair of dunks to go along with his effective defense. 

“He’s such an energy player, and we want him to just come in and play with that reckless abandon where he’s going after every shot, blocking everything at the rim,” Allen said of DeLaurier. “On offense, attacking the rim, attacking the boards. He got a lot of stuff that he tipped out to other guys, a lot of balls he kept alive, and he altered a ton of shots at the rim.”

Despite the absence of its leading scorer and rebounder, Duke looked as cohesive as it has in all of conference play Wednesday and could carry that confidence into a test against No. 11 Clemson on the road Sunday.