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And one: AJ Griffin leads Duke men's basketball's second-half resurgence in win against Virginia Tech

Freshman forward AJ Griffin scored 13 points off the bench for the Blue Devils against Virginia Tech.
Freshman forward AJ Griffin scored 13 points off the bench for the Blue Devils against Virginia Tech.

After each Duke men's basketball game this season, check back here for the Player of the Game and more. Today, the Blue Zone breaks down AJ Griffin's clutch performance in the Blue Devils' first conference game and win of the season:

One player: AJ Griffin

Coming off the bench, AJ Griffin brought the hammer down in some decisive moments against Virginia Tech Wednesday night. Playing over 24 minutes, eclipsing his previous high of 22 against South Carolina State, the freshman forward was key in transition and the offensive zone. He matched or outpaced four of the five Duke starters with four rebounds despite at least 10 fewer minutes of playing time than those four starters. Griffin led all bench players in the game with 13 points and a fantastic shooting percentage of 71.4%. This A+ shooting and defensive ingenuity gave him the top plus-minus of all players in the game at +17 and brought his shooting percentage in the last four games up to a whopping 65.4%.


His difference making was clearest when he threw down a dunk off a pass from Wendell Moore Jr. in the second half, putting a strong finish on an 11-0 run for Duke, after which it’s lead never dropped below two points. Griffin’s 10 total points in the back half of the game were crucial to turning the tide for Duke after a lifeless first 20 minutes.

One word: Resurgence

Griffin was not the only contributor in the latter half of the game. The Blue Devils played with renewed focus and energy in the second half after entering halftime behind for the first time this season. Right off the bat, their defensive game was aggressive, disrupting the passing lanes between the Hokies and forcing them way out past the arc to maintain ball movement. This resulted in mounting issues for Virginia Tech with scoring inside and outside of the paint in the second half. Their leading scorer, star forward Keve Aluma, had his highest scoring game of the season with 25 points, mostly from right below the rim, but only eight of those points came in the second half. 

This consistent defensive play allowed Duke’s offense to recuperate and shine. Paolo Banchero, after scoring six in the first, collected 17 in the second. The team’s total shooting percentage jumped from 46.4% to 61.5%. Banchero’s contributions, along with Griffin, Moore and Trevor Keels, brought the Blue Devils 15 more points in the second than their opponents and secured the win.

One stat: 5-of-19 3-point shooting for Virginia Tech

Numbers don’t lie. The Duke defense forced the Hokies to take low quality and few shots from three, an unusual scenario for Virginia Tech. This was its worst game so far this season in terms of 3-point shooting percentage, with 26.3%, as well as total threes made, which in this game totaled five. Virginia Tech’s guard Hunter Cattoor, coming off a game against St. Bonaventure where he put down five threes by himself, was held to just two against Duke off of four attempts. Further, the Hokies made just one three in nine attempts the entire second half.

Defense was a group effort for the Blue Devils throughout the whole game, with five players picking up a block and six with a steal. So far, Duke has shined when they can maintain a consistent defense, and this game was no different. They have the potential to build on this fact and grow more consistent within the rest of their ACC schedule. 

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