BLACKSBURG, Va.—Senior shooting guard Seth Curry was in a familiar arena Thursday night—Cassell Coliseum, where his father Dell played four years.
And after Seth drilled his first shot, everyone in attendance could sense the sharpshooter’s extra sense of comfort as Duke’s lead became comfortable early and stayed that way the entire night.
“It’s always good to come back here where my dad played and get a win,” Curry said. “Whenever I make my first shot it gives me a lot of confidence. I was getting good shots.”
Thursday night at Virginia Tech, No. 6 Duke (23-3, 10-3 in the ACC) easily disposed of the ACC-bottom dwelling Hokies (11-15, 2-11) 88-56—thanks in a large part to the red-hot Curry.
“I thought [Curry] let the game come to him,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “That first half display was sensational—one of the better ones. We needed that.”
Coming out of the gates on fire, Curry made himself at home with his family in attendance in his last game in Blacksburg. He scored 19 of his team-high 22 points in the first half, going 5-of-6 on three-pointers.
Quick whistles throughout the contest resulted in Blue Devil point guard Quinn Cook sitting on the bench for most the first half with three fouls. With Cook on riding the pine, Curry helped pick up the slack with his exceptional offensive output that allowed Duke to go into the locker room at halftime with a 20-point advantage—a lead would never be challenged. Steady play from reserve guard Tyler Thornton—who finished with eight points and zero turnovers—helped ensure that the Duke’s cushion would never be in danger.
Curry was not alone on his field day from downtown. The entire Duke backcourt got it going from distance Thursday night. The unit shot 12-of-17 from beyond the arc—including 8-of-9 in the first half.
Due to a smothering Duke defense, the Hokies, on the other hand, could not buy a bucket from 3-point range and finished the night a paltry 1-of-16.
“We just wanted to get after them defensively,” freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. “We wanted to make it difficult for them and wear them down.”
Like most opponents this year, Duke struggled to contain Hokie guard Erick Green, but limited him enough to keep the score lopsided all night. Virginia Tech’s only source of reliable offense came from the veteran Green—the leading scorer in the conference—who netted 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, despite being the focal point of the Blue Devil defense.
“He’s a terrific player,” said Sulaimon, who guarded Green much of the night along with Curry and Thornton. “He had me gassed. It was a team effort. He’s a great player, and it took all of us to slow him down.”
Benefitting from a tightly called ball game, and to complement its prolific 3-point shooting, the Blue Devils hit 16-of-21 free throws.
Rebounding from his worst performance of the season in a loss at Maryland on Saturday, senior center Mason Plumlee got back on track. Virginia Tech had no answer for the 6-foot-10 ACC Player of the Year hopeful, who did not get as many touches as usual due to the perimeter’s prolific performance. Plumlee was efficient and active throughout the contest, finishing with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Sulaimon has been tremendous following Duke’s first two losses—averaging 20 points coming into Thursday night. The youngster from Texas continued that strong bounce-back play with 17 points against the Hokies.
Similar to Curry, junior forward Josh Hairston looked comfortable. Playing in his home state and getting the starting nod, Hairston tallied 11 points for the second consecutive game.
“Josh has been terrific,” Krzyzewski said. “He played like a true veteran tonight.”
Following the game, Krzyzewski indicated that senior forward Ryan Kelly, who has been out for several weeks with a foot injury, is making progress toward a late-season return.
“Yesterday [Kelly] ran for 15 minutes in the pool, and he’s off completely of crutches,” Krzyewski said. “He’s doing a lot of physical stuff with his hips, leg and core with medicine balls and things like that. He’s sore, but his foot is not sore. So, we’re more optimistic. Again, no timetable, but it’s moving. It’s moving in the right direction. Now we believe we are going to get him back. And it’s just a matter of when.”