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Thomas, No. 6 Blue Devils stifle Virginia Tech

For much of Duke’s matchup against Virginia Tech, neither team could hold onto the ball—and the 22-15 scoreline at halftime indicated as much. But ultimately the Blue Devils showed they wanted it more than the Hokies did and used their suffocating defense to put the game out of reach.

No. 6 Duke overcame 11 first-half turnovers and forced 26 to defeat Virginia Tech 69-38 Thursday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Blue Devils (16-3, 4-0 in the ACC) struggled to score in the opening period, shooting only 25.7 percent from the field. Fortunately for Duke, the Hokies (11-7, 1-3) didn’t do much better, shooting 24 percent, and they were clearly flustered by Duke’s aggressive defense. As a result, Blue Devil head coach Joanne P. McCallie wasn’t disappointed with Duke’s weak offensive output.

“I really had no problem with the team at halftime,” McCallie said. “I was proud that we kept such a good team to 15 points. Sometimes the ball doesn’t go in a little bit and that’s okay as long as you are defending. We had the most awesome defense in terms of holding a team that is so good in transition, a team that has scored so many points against other opponents.”

The Blue Devils started off the game on a 6-0 run, but weren’t able to pull away from the Hokies because of four consecutive missed layups. After Keturah Jackson finally converted an easy bucket on the fastbreak with 12 minutes remaining, Duke went cold again, failing to score for almost four minutes. 

But even when Virginia Tech cut Duke’s lead to 16-15 at the 3:14 mark, turnovers derailed the Hokies’ chances of pulling ahead. Duke used a 2-2-1 fullcourt zone press that led to four quick steals, the last of which resulted in a wide-open layup for Jasmine Thomas and brought the lead back up to five points.

The second half brought more of the same for Virginia Tech. The Hokies gave the ball up seven times over the first three and half minutes of the period, and the Blue Devils took advantage of Virginia Tech’s ballhandling woes, putting together a 14-4 run over that span.

Duke finally converted easy attempts in the paint and Krystal Thomas led the charge down low, scoring 13 of her 17 points after intermission on efficient 4-of-5 shooting. While the Hokies continued to stumble on the offensive end, the Blue Devils pulled away by consistently staying aggressive around the basket.

“We were getting great looks in the paint, so those are very easy convertible shots,” Thomas said. “We kept attacking. We never stopped just because we missed a few shots in the first half. So we just stayed with what was working and the shots kept dropping in the second half.”

Thomas’s ability to effectively finish for the Blue Devils spurred McCallie to start the junior in last night’s contest after she came off the bench against No. 1 Connecticut Monday. As McCallie considers six to seven Blue Devils worthy of a starting spot, Thomas and the others need to regularly perform well to stay in the starting five. 

“I’ve been preaching consistency, and we need a team that is consistent and people every night who are focused on what they can contribute to the team,” McCallie said. “Krystal’s worked very hard.... The bottom line is the finishing element and who’s in the game when it’s done.”

With 12:31 left in the game, the Blue Devils were up by 20 and the lead only grew from there as Jasmine Thomas and Joy Cheek found their shooting stroke, combining for 16 second-half points. 

Currently sitting atop the ACC standings, Duke hopes to extend its success to Sunday when it matches up against Maryland away from home. 


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