BLAKCSBURG, Va.—A common critique of the Blue Devils is their vulnerability to, as the old saying goes, die by the three. But No. 6 Duke was able to live by the three against Virginia Tech, hitting 12-of-17 from beyond the arc en route to an 88-56 victory at Cassell Coliseum.
Seth Curry, playing under the commemorative banner of his father Dell, led the Blue Devils 3-point barrage, going 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. Rasheed Sulaimon and Tyler Thornton were also deadly from long-range, going a combined 5-for-7.
Facing a hailstorm of long-range jumpers, Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson’s defense was forced to extend out from the basket, leaving the Hokies vulnerable to Duke’s inside play.
“Whenever we make shots, that makes their defense come out and double-team pick-and-rolls and things like that,” Curry said. “Our big men did a good job of finishing today.”
Deep shooting wasn’t Duke’s only source of life as Mason Plumlee and Josh Hairston took advantage of Virginia Tech’s spaced defense. Plumlee secured his 15th double-double of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Hairston racked up his second-consecutive 11-point performance.
The Blue Devils outside shooting frustrated the Hokie defense, but it was the inside-outside combination that put Virginia Tech away.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski noted how the team’s outside shooting opened up new opportunities for Duke’s big men to flourish, especially in the second half.
“We just gave a different avenue for the ball to go in, rather than keeping it all out on the perimeter,” Krzyzewski said. “[Plumlee] was playing so well, he needed to touch the ball. They kind of really went all after Seth in the second half, which opened up some drives for us.”
Those drives, in turn, opened up more outside shots for the Blue Devil backcourt. When Virginia Tech tried to clamp down inside, the Duke big men took what the defense gave them and found shooters.
Plumlee finished with five assists, four of which were on 3-pointers.
“I thought we kicked the ball really well,” Krzyzewski said. “Rasheed had a very quiet 17…a few of those were off of kicks that guys made.”
Balanced, inside-out play might not even have been the best facet of the Blue Devils’ play Thursday. The team’s defense yielded just 56 points, Duke’s best defensive performance since giving up 40 points to Clemson Jan. 8.
Erick Green, the ACC’s leading scorer, scored 22 points, below his average of 25.3 per game entering play. Krzyzewski acknowledged that defense had been a point of emphasis in this week’s practices.
“We worked a lot on our defense, and I thought it paid off today,” Krzyzewski said. “We played outstanding defense.”
Virginia Tech came out early pushing the ball in search of easy buckets, but Duke used fullcourt, man-to-man pressure to control the pace, keeping the ball away from Green and tiring out the Hokie shooters.
“Their pressure on the defensive end took us out of our game early and took us out of our execution early”, Johnson said. “We didn’t respond well to that, and we dug ourselves into a hole and weren’t able to get out of that.”
Coming off a discouraging two-point loss to Maryland, Duke controlled every facet of the game.
Whether the Blue Devils will be able to replicate such a performance against tougher competition remains to be seen, but the team will likely draw momentum from a 32-point rout.
“We stayed steady the whole time,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m proud of my guys.”