With freshman Marvin Bagley III missing his second consecutive game with a knee sprain, the Blue Devils knew they would need to play through their guards to beat a pesky Virginia Tech team.
Gary Trent Jr. and Grayson Allen did just that, and 12th-ranked Duke used its hot shooting from beyond the arc to push past the Hokies 74-52 Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Trent and Allen combined for 44 points and hit 12 triples to pace the Blue Devil offense.
After a back-and-forth first half with both teams struggling to build a lead, Duke (21-5, 9-4 in the ACC) gained an edge near the end of the first half before using a 9-0 spurt midway through the second half to pull away. For the second consecutive game, Allen was in attack mode, and the senior made his presence felt across with the court, finishing with 25 points and six assists to match his highest-scoring outing since a 37-point explosion against Michigan State in November.
“That’s the first full 40 I think we’ve played,” Allen said. “We’ve had a lot of games, it’s been 32, 36, it’s been really close, but we’ve let another team go on a run and win one of those segments. But tonight in the second half, we went on our big run and we made it a point to not let up and not let them crawl back.”
The Jacksonville, Fla., native punctuated his stellar game with one of his best sequences of the season. After hitting his sixth triple of the game on a pass from Trent, Allen found freshman Wendell Carter Jr. skying for an alley-oop. On the very next possession, Carter returned the favor, finding Allen for yet another triple to ignite the home crowd and push Duke’s lead to 20 midway through the second half.
Trent matched the Blue Devil captain stride for stride in the first half, as he exposed the porous Hokie defense. The freshman moved well without the ball and looked in control of the action with an efficient 19 points and five triples. Although Carter did not quite replicate his 19-point, 10-rebound performance from Sunday, the big man made his impact felt in different areas of the game with strong contests at the rim and still finished with a double-double behind an impressive second half.
“They doubled on the catch,” Carter said. “They made it very difficult for any of us to get into our moods. So, I just looked to make the simple plays. Whenever they came to double, I just kicked it back out or found the open man. Just making the simple plays, not forcing the action, letting the game come to me.”
The Blue Devils also turned in one of their most impressive defensive performances of the year. Despite averaging 82.7 points per game, Virginia Tech (18-8, 7-6) matched a season low in points and shot just 42.9 percent from the field. After the game, Duke attributed its strong effort to the communication that was lacking at times earlier this season.
“At the top, I heard someone behind me talking the whole time, calling out guys in the middle, calling out guys in the corner,” Allen said. “Everyone did a tremendous job of talking. It’s been there in stretches, but tonight we did it for 40 minutes, which was huge.”
Duke’s offense looked shaky to start the game, with eight turnovers by the midway point of the first half. The Hokies made an effort to mitigate the Blue Devils’ size advantage and forced Duke to get almost all of its baskets on the perimeter. Carter had an especially tough time with the adjustment, with four early turnovers and an offensive foul. All in all, the Blue Devils took 18 of their 26 first-half shots from beyond the arc and had only six points in the paint after 20 minutes of play.
Virginia Tech had its own troubles on offense, as Duke’s 2-3 zone pressured the ball out to the perimeter to force it away from the Hokies’ main options and make Buzz Williams’ 3-point-happy squad score in the paint. Following a huge victory against in-state rival Virginia, Virginia Tech had trouble finding its rhythm early and struggled on the boards, getting outrebounded 36-19 in the game.
Duke turned around its early struggles and committed only four turnovers in the final 30 minutes. With Allen’s aggression pacing the team, Trent continued to find open looks by sliding into the open holes in the defense. The freshman has been hot from beyond the arc and has now hit 20 of his last 33 shots from 3-point range.
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“We talked and said you’ve got to be ready to shoot it. Just shoot it, but it’s not just the release, it’s the preparation,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Sometimes if you’re prepared, then it goes. If you catch it and have to prepare and then shoot, the defense has a chance to recover. He’s done a real good job of it.”
The Hokies looked to make their second-half comeback behind 3-point shooting, but simply could not hit enough jumpers. As the game progressed, Virginia Tech settled more and more from deep instead of attacking the middle of Duke’s zone defense. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils stayed hot from the field, shooting 50.0 percent to pull away.
“We’re finding that [Trevon] has a good driving lane with me up top,” Allen said. “Sometimes we only have one big in there and Javin can space out a little bit so it can open some lanes to drive. Wendell can get those lobs and threes and really space the floor. In saying that, though, we’d like to get Marvin back quickly so we can feed him down there.”
The Blue Devils will hope to have Bagley back the next time they take the court Sunday when they visit No. 11 Clemson in another pivotal ACC battle.