As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
Duke entered Cassell Coliseum in the midst of an impressive six-game winning streak. However, Virginia Tech toppled the Blue Devils 70-56 Thursday night, which is Duke's first loss since Feb. 2. The Blue Devils struggled out of the gates from the field in Blacksburg, Va., and a third-quarter rally was not enough to overcome a 37-25 halftime deficit. The 14-point difference is easily the largest margin of defeat for Duke in ACC play.
“You have to give credit to [Virginia Tech] of course, but the stat line, there is nothing to it that is impressive," head coach Joanne P. McCallie told GoDuke.com. "We did not play well, again I want to credit Virginia Tech because they played very well. I thought they played more patient than they sometimes play relative to getting the ball inside, and of course hitting some shots from the perimeter."
The Blue Devils struggled throughout the game offensively, shooting 41.1 percent from the field and just 18.2 percent from three. Virginia Tech pressured the Duke ball handlers heavily, making life extremely difficult for the Blue Devil guards, even when using ball screens. Fast break opportunities were few and far between for Duke, as the Hokies dictated a slower tempo and retreated exceptionally well defensively. After displaying outstanding ball movement during the winning streak, Duke had eight more turnovers than assists on Thursday night.
Outside of Leaonna Odom, Haley Gorecki, and Kyra Lambert, the Blue Devils received minimal contributions from the supporting cast. Even Gorecki struggled with her efficiency, going 5-for-19 from the field on a night where Duke looked to her frequently on isolations. The Hokies clearly game planned to make life difficult for the Blue Devils’ star guard, as a defender was on Gorecki’s hip each time she attacked the rim and help was always waiting around the basket to contest the impending shot.
Early on, it was evident that the Blue Devils had no answer on the interior for Elizabeth Kitley. Whether it was against 2-3 zone or man, the Hokies found a way to work the ball inside to their freshman center. Virginia Tech was very patient offensively, and with Jade Williams in constant foul trouble, the Blue Devils had virtually no answer for the 6-foot-5 Kitley. With Kitley dominating the paint and Duke struggling from the field in the first half, Virginia Tech went into halftime in command with a twelve-point lead.
“She’s the most improved player in the league I think, probably should get rookie of the year in the league. What makes her difficult is she is strong, and she works hard to get the ball,” McCallie told GoDuke.com regarding Kitley. “She has worked on her skillset to be able to finish around the basket, we did a very poor job with her and fouled her, so she had a great night and is an excellent player.”
After receiving the Hokies’ best punch in an impressive first half by the hosts, the Blue Devils predictably got up off the mat with authority in a turnaround third quarter. Sparked by increased intensity on the defensive end and a spark from Odom in transition, Duke cut the Virginia Tech lead all the way down to four late in the period. Foul shooting prevented the Blue Devils from cutting into the lead even further.
Despite the rally in the third, four points would be as close as the Blue Devils would get the rest of the contest, as Hokie sharpshooters Aisha Sheppard and Dara Mabrey shut the door on the potential Duke comeback. In unexpected fashion, neither Sheppard nor Mabrey made much of a contribution during the first three periods. However, great shooters cannot be held in check for too long, as both helped Virginia Tech push its lead to double digits to ensure victory for the Hokies.
The Blue Devils will finish off the regular season with a short bus ride to Chapel Hill Sunday to face off against North Carolina. With Duke having won the first meeting between the two clubs in Cameron Indoor Stadium, expect the Tar Heels—an NCAA tournament bubble team in their own right—to come out with marked physicality and aggression in the always crucial rivalry matchup.
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