A new generation of Duke players did their best to recreate the magic of Hill-to-Laettner.
This one, which gave the Blue Devils a 77-75 win, will go down as McRoberts-to-Dockery.
Shelden Williams was supposed to play Christian Laettner's role for Duke (7-0, 1-0 in the ACC) by setting a pick near the foul line and then receiving a full court heave from Josh McRoberts. Sean Dockery was supposed to screen for J.J. Redick as a secondary option.
But while the referees were determining how much time should be put back on the clock after the Coleman Collins tip-in that had put Virginia Tech (5-3, 0-1) up 75-74, associate head coach Johnny Dawkins saw a flaw with the Hokie defense. He called out to Dockery and told the senior guard, playing his best game as a Blue Devil, to break off from the classic play's script and look for his own shot instead.
McRoberts saw the same opening Dawkins did. The freshman slung the ball right-handed down the court to Dockery, who caught the pass near the half-court stripe across from Duke's bench. Dockery turned, took one dribble and released the shot over the outstretched hand of Virginia Tech guard Shawn Harris.
"It felt like it was in the air for like 10 seconds," Dockery said.
The 40-foot shot floated toward the net as the Cameron faithful watched, hoping Duke could overcome an overall lackluster effort with one unlikely play. The ball rattled in, giving the Blue Devils the two-point win and sending the fans into hysteria.
"It's a crazy feeling," Dockery said. "After I shot the shot the student body was on me and my teammates and some of my family members were out there. It's unexplainable, but it's one of the best feelings you can have playing basketball."
On the play before Dockery's shot, Collins won position inside Williams and tipped in a missed Zabian Dowdell six-footer. The game clock initially ran down to 1.0 seconds, but the referees reviewed the play and added an additional six-tenths of a second. The additional time allowed Dockery the opportunity to advance the ball and release the heave with approximately 0.5 seconds remaining.
"I feel for my kids," said Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg, who returned to Cameron Indoor Stadium Sunday night for the first time since being ejected in his first visit to the arena last season. "They competed extremely hard for 40 minutes. They deserved to have a chance to win, and they had a chance to win."
Dockery's last-second heroics masked an ugly last four minutes for the Blue Devils. Duke squandered an 11-point lead over the final 4:19, allowing the Hokies to get back in the game and have a chance to win in the final seconds.
Until Dockery's shot, Duke was held scoreless during that stretch. J.J. Redick, who was harassed by Virginia Tech defenders all game long and finished with 18 points on 6-for-19 shooting, missed four shots in the last four minutes. The Blue Devils turned the ball over on their other three offensive possessions.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
While Duke struggled to find a way to score, the team's defense also collapsed. Collins led the Hokies with 25 points and slammed in two open dunks during the team's 12-0 run. Dowdell drove the lane once for an easy hoop, and Virginia Tech also converted four-of-six free throws down the stretch.
"Virginia Tech, I thought, outplayed us," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "The thing that I was disappointed in was that we did not play defense. You cannot lose the game if you play defense."
The Blue Devils opened up the game's only double-digit lead immediately before the Hokies' late run. Duke was down 56-55 with just under 10 minutes left, but the Blue Devils went on a 19-7 spurt over the next five minutes to extend the lead to an 11-point margin.
Dockery, Redick and senior Lee Melchionni all hit three-pointers during the run, and the duo of Williams and McRoberts limited Collins inside. Dockery finished with a career-high 19 points, while Williams led the Blue Devils with 21 points and 19 rebounds.
Throughout the game neither team could sustain any momentum. The score was tied 12 times, and the lead changed on 19 occasions during the game.
Much of the back-and-forth action came during the first half. The Blue Devils were without leading scorer Redick for five minutes after the senior guard was hit with a technical foul-his third personal foul of the game-with just over five minutes left in the period.
Redick was upset with an offensive foul call the previous possession when he had been trying to shake loose Hokie guard A.D. Vassallo. The next time down the court, the two went nose-to-nose, yelling at each other. The confrontation resulted in a double technical.
"They got J.J. off his game," Krzyzewski said. "I feel like I didn't do a very good job of getting my kids ready to play at an emotional level. I've known it for three days, so how we were playing was not a surprise to me."
Dockery's shot, however, allowed the Blue Devils to escape a tough challenge for the third straight game. This one, however, may be more memorable than the others.
"It was kind of surreal," McRoberts said. "I threw it, and I kind of walked down and I saw the ball go up, and I was like, 'That has a good chance to go in.' Then when it went in, I don't even know what happened. I just saw a bunch of people on the floor."
Dockery also finished with a season-high six steals for Duke.... Williams' double-double was the 40th of his career.... Usual starting guards Dowdell and Jamon Gordon came off the bench for the Hokies for disciplinary reasons, but the two finished with 15 and 11 points, respectively.