Two teams coming off very close, heartbreaking losses will tip off against each other Thursday night.
Maryland upset No. 6 Duke (22-3, 9-3 in the ACC) Saturday as the Blue Devils saw their comeback bid fall short when sophomore Quinn Cook’s desperation shot bounced off the rim and out as time expired. The Hokies (11-14, 2-10), on the other hand, forced overtime against N.C. State but suffered an eighth consecutive loss.
“[We are] coming off a tough heart-breaking loss down at N.C. State, where we went into overtime with a very good basketball team on the road,” Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson said. “Saw some bright spots out of it, but again, were not able to finish the game off. Got the Blue Devils coming in here coming off a tough loss at Maryland. As far as the team is concerned, we took a day off and we’ve got to get back to work, get ready for Duke.”
It could get tough for Virginia Tech, however, against a Duke team that has won eight of the past nine contests between these two teams. They will rely heavily on senior guard Erik Green who leads the ACC in scoring this season with 25 points per game.
“Well, he’s a terrific player and young man,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said in the weekly ACC teleconference. “He’s a scoring machine. As a result of his ability to score, he creates opportunities for his teammates to score because he draws so much attention. And to draw that attention and still score the way he does is remarkable. He can break you down, hit open—he can knock down the three, but he can also get to the foul line. He’s just a terrific player. He’s one of the best players in the country.”
Thursday’s game may well be a matchup between Green and Duke senior Mason Plumlee as they showcase their ACC Player of the Year credentials.
“Well, he’s been a great leader for us, and the fact [is] that he can play so many minutes,” Krzyzewski said. “A lot of times, big guys get worn out and they don’t have the conditioning. Mason has made a commitment to being in the ballgame for every play. He’s played heavy minutes.”
Virginia Tech’s wildcard may be freshman Marshall Wood. Having just returned from injury, Wood got his first meaningful action against N.C. State.
“He had a 14-point, 16 rebound performance and he was out-rebounding... pre-season player of the year C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell,” Johnson said. “For a young man to do that after being out for six weeks—to play the way he played, shooting in a hostile environment on the road, in my mind says a lot about that kid.”
Duke will be playing with the shadow of former Blue Devil Phil Henderson behind it. Henderson was found dead Sunday from an apparent heart attack at the age of 44.
“Well, as a real gentle person, Phil, we’re so sad about his passing,” Krzyzewski said. “He passed away in the Philippines over the weekend.... He’s a good guy, very talented player. But a gentle person, real gentle person and had a lot of talent.”
In this emotional backdrop, it will all boil down to how Duke can recover from its loss to the Terrapins and the grueling four-game-stretch in 10 days.
“The story for my team is the fact that we are competing and we are doing a good job, in fact, a terrific job, and we have continued to win at a very high level without Ryan [Kelly],” Krzyzewski said. “The story isn’t that we lost. The story is how much we’ve won. My guys have done a terrific job in doing that.”