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Beyond the arc: Duke men's basketball survives yet another last-second thriller

<p>Tre Jones had a career high 22 points against Virginia Tech to help Duke earn an Elite Eight berth.</p>

Tre Jones had a career high 22 points against Virginia Tech to help Duke earn an Elite Eight berth.

Although Cam Reddish was out with a knee injury, but exhilarating performances from the Blue Devils’ three other freshmen starters powered Duke to a 75-73 victory over Virginia Tech and a second consecutive Elite Eight berth. The Blue Zone breaks down three key takeaways, three key stats and looks forward for the Duke squad: 

Three key takeaways:  

1. Tre Stones 

One of Duke’s many problems in its Round of 32 escape against Central Florida was Tre Jones’ complete inability to hit an open 3-pointer, or really score much at all. But against the Hokies, the five-star point guard made sure he wouldn’t be looked at as an offensive liability any longer. The Apple Valley, Minn. native dropped 22 points—his first 20-point performance in a Blue Devil uniform—including a 5-of-7 mark from downtown. If he can keep this kind of offensive production up, there is absolutely nothing in the way of Duke raising yet another banner next weekend. 

2. Cam out, O’Connell in 

Less than a half-hour before tipoff, it was announced Cam Reddish was limping during warmups—apparently nursing a knee injury—and would sit the entire contest. His No. 2 jersey never left the locker room. His absence paved the way for the return of Alex O’Connell, who started and played 35 minutes against the Hokies after not seeing the floor in Duke’s previous matchup against the Knights. The sophomore struggled from deep—missing all four of his 3-point shots—but brought down seven huge rebounds to secure the Duke victory. Reddish’s status is still unknown for the Elite Eight, but it is definitely a story worth monitoring leading up to Sunday evening. 

3. Goldwire watches from the sidelines 

After playing 36 minutes over Duke’s first two NCAA Tournament wins, backup point guard Jordan Goldwire was expected to be used as an important piece off the bench during the Blue Devils’ run for a sixth national championship. And against a Virginia Tech squad that ranked eighth in the country in 3-point percentage, Goldwire’s terrorizing perimeter defense would be more important than ever. But the Norcross, Ga. native saw only three minutes of action Friday night, all in the first half. Duke really could have used his presence—the Hokies’ knock down shooting from deep, especially over the first 20 minutes, helped them nearly pull off the shocking upset. 

Three key stats: 

1. 80 

It’s getting repetitive talking about Zion’s newest unbelievable performance game after game, but there simply aren’t enough words to describe how good this kid is. Following his 23-point outing against the Hokies, the projected first-overall pick has now scored 80 points through his first three NCAA Tournament contests—a new freshman record. Williamson also became the first player—of any class—to record 700 points, 60 steals and 50 blocks in a season since Kevin Durant in 2006-07. Not bad. 

2. 248 

Duke recorded six blocks Friday night, bringing the team’s total to 248 on the year—a new program record. The Blue Devils broke their previous mark of 245, set in 1998-99, which also stood as the previous ACC single-season record. Duke currently leads the country with 6.7 blocks per contest and will rely on that intimidating interior defense to carry the team through its toughest stretch of the year. 

3. 3 

With Zion Williamson garnering all the headlines, fellow All-American R.J. Barrett has often gotten overlooked. But against Virginia Tech, Barrett was just as impressive as his 285-pound counterpart, notching 18 points and 11 assists. The double-double is just the program’s third points-assists double-double in the NCAA Tournament, with the other two belonging to Bobby Hurley during the Blue Devils’ 1992 championship run.

Looking forward 

Many stated prior to the NCAA Tournament that Virginia Tech would be Duke’s biggest test in the East Region, but the Blue Devils’ next opponent isn’t too shabby either. Michigan State is one of the hottest teams in the country, ranking third overall in KenPom and coming off an 80-63 beating of third-seeded LSU in its own Sweet Sixteen matchup. Tom Izzo may be only 1-11 all-time against Coach K, but the Blue Devils are still going to need to play their hearts out if they want to make their first Final Four since 2015.