The last two seasons, Cassell Coliseum has been far from hospitable to Duke.
New Year's Eve 2016, it visited Virginia Tech sans a suspended Grayson Allen, only to get walloped by 24 points. Last year's matchup was as close as it gets, with the Hokies' Chris Clarke tipping the game-winner home in the final five seconds for a one-point win.
But no matter the margin, a loss is a loss—and there is little margin for error if these Blue Devils hope to claim the No. 1 seed in next month's ACC tournament, with both Virginia and North Carolina clipping at their heels.
Third-ranked Duke will visit No. 20 Virginia Tech at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Blacksburg, Va., as the Blue Devils look to remain perfect in true road games this season and complete the toughest stretch of their regular season with five wins in a half-dozen games. Duke will be without freshman superstar Zion Williamson once again—he is still listed as day-to-day with a right knee sprain—but the Hokies will also be playing without their offensive leader, as Justin Robinson is expected to be out with a foot injury that has sidelined him since the start of February.
Against Syracuse Saturday night, it wasn't all roses. Cam Reddish and Tre Jones combined for a meager 4-of-23 as they worked to make up for what the Blue Devils lacked offensively in Williamson's absence.
Contributions from more surprising options, however, gave Duke (24-3, 12-2 in the ACC) a lift, with Alex O'Connell scoring 20 in his first start of the season and and Marques Bolden pulling down four offensive rebounds, all in the last six minutes of the 75-65 win.
"Having a big part of our team out, it allows a lot of guys to step up and they did that today," Bolden said afterwards. "It makes no difference to me if I go in for five minutes or 40 minutes. I just try to play as hard as I can."
Minutes could come into play against Virginia Tech. Like the Blue Devils, the Hokies played on the road Saturday, visiting Notre Dame where they won 67-59.
Unlike Duke, though, Virginia Tech (21-6, 10-5) has not had any tight road-game turnarounds this season. In ACC play, the Hokies have had two or fewer days between games just three times, and on each occasion, one game was at home with the other on the road.
The Blue Devils, on the other hand, have already dealt with the short recovery period six times since the start of January—and for the second time in three weeks, they'll be dealing with back-to-back away games as well after visiting Virginia and Louisville in a four-day span.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski won't be taking over the role of ACC scheduling czar anytime soon, but the recent slate has clearly put some strain on his young team.
"This stretch, we've basically had one real day off in about seven weeks. [Last] Sunday was their first real one—you have a day off NCAA-wise, but it's not a day off because you're going to school and you're traveling. That's difficult," Krzyzewski said prior to his team's game against North Carolina last week. "The two away games on a Saturday-Monday or a Saturday-Tuesday are probably something we should not do as a conference. If you're going to be involved in that, one of them should be a home game."
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Whether Duke indeed has some weary legs Tuesday or not, it should benefit from a newly-added piece to its rotation. Freshman Joey Baker, who was expected to redshirt the 2018-19 campaign, made his debut Saturday against the Orange, and even then, the Blue Devils really leaned on just six guys to get the job done.
Krzyzewski said Saturday night that Baker will "continue to get stuff," which could mean Duke going as deep as eight guys once Williamson returns—and maybe nine if Jack White, who didn't see the floor at all in Syracuse, returns to his early-season form.
In the meantime, the Blue Devils will have to just keep doing what they've done nearly all season away from Durham—win.
"You go into somebody else’s home and they want you to lose," R.J. Barrett said after beating the Orange. "To come here and get a road win, it’s amazing."
Hank Tucker and Derek Saul contributed reporting.