BROOKLYN, N.Y.—For the second time in the last week, Duke felt the crushing blow of defeat in a high-stakes contest.
The Blue Devils fell to Virginia Tech 82-67 Saturday night at Barclays Center to lose in the ACC tournament championship game. Both teams shot well from the field all game, but Duke’s 65% mark from the charity stripe came back to haunt its chances of taking the program’s 22nd tournament title.
The story all second half long was junior guard Hunter Cattoor. The Virginia Tech guard was a one-man wrecking crew and finished the night with a career-high 31 points, but it was his 11-point burst to begin the final 20 minutes that pushed Virginia Tech over the top. All in all, the sharpshooter knocked down seven threes on a ridiculous 11-of-16 mark from the field, with no triple being bigger than the one he hit to give Virginia Tech a 10-point lead with just over six minutes to play.
"[Keve] Aluma is really good. Cattoor has done this at different times this year," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He was spectacular but it really starts with the energy that [Storm] Murphy gives them and the leadership that he gives them and the experience."
With 3:16 remaining, Roach walked to the line for his two free throws. He missed both, and Keve Aluma made both his free throws immediately after to give Virginia Tech an 11-point lead. If there was any shred of Duke hope left in the building after that, it all went out the window after Justyn Mutts dunked on Paolo Banchero to fire up the Hokie faithful and push the game out of reach.
"We move on to the next one. Tomorrow we're gonna see where we're seeded at and then we just go from there," junior captain Wendell Moore Jr. said. "We get a couple days of good practice in order to prep for who we have. We gotta forget about this one. The game's already over, again hats off to Virginia Tech, they're a great team."
The Blue Devils already found themselves in trouble after Cattoor took over, but things got worse when sophomore guard Jeremy Roach picked up his fourth foul on a charge at the 14:12 mark of the second half. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski opted to sub out freshman guard Trevor Keels instead of Roach, and it worked out as Roach continued to give quality minutes all the way until the end.
Despite all of the momentum at Barclays Center feeling like it was moving in Virginia Tech’s direction, Duke found itself down five with just over 10 minutes left after Moore sunk a corner three to get the Duke crowd back into the game.
The momentum was short-lived, however, as Virginia Tech forward Justyn Mutts finished in the paint for two points and Banchero got called for a charge on the ensuing possession that had Krzyzewski and every Duke fan in the building hollering at the referees.
But Duke needed a critical bucket, and as he has all tournament, freshman forward AJ Griffin delivered with a turnaround jumper in the low post. Keels attacked the rim to draw a pair of fouls on the next two possessions and with 7:57 left, Duke was down seven.
"They have such good movement," Krzyzewski said. "When you're going against incredible movement you have to have incredible talk, and that's the toughest thing to teach a young team defensively."
Griffin picked up the game right where he left off against Miami and curled his way around a screen for the layup and Duke’s first basket. That was the theme for Griffin for the whole first half, as he was the guy the Blue Devils turned to when they really needed a bucket and finished that period with eight points.
Griffin snapped Duke out of a four-minute spell toward the end of the first half without any field goals with a pull-up from the elbow to cut Virginia Tech’s lead to five, and hit a big triple just before that drought to give Duke a 29-27 lead.
Despite being only 4-of-12 from 3-point range in the ACC tournament prior to this game, Cattoor didn't hesitate to fire away from beyond the arc and knocked down two early triples on consecutive possessions to give the Hokies the 11-8 lead.
Banchero knocked down a tough runner right after for his first field goal of the night and once again attacked with the same level of aggressiveness that he showed against Miami. He had his midrange game working early and finished the game with a team-high 20 points on an 8-of-11 clip.
Once again, Roach hit crucial buckets when Duke really needed it, draining a contested three at the 14:32 mark almost immediately after checking into the game for the first time. Despite the instant burst of offense, Roach was forced to the bench quickly after picking up his third foul in the first half.
In all the back-and-forth chaos of the first half, Virginia Tech was missing its leader in Keve Aluma. Aluma did not record a point until the 6:13 mark and missed both of his first two free throw attempts, but once he scored, it was bad news for Duke. Aluma went on to finish the half with 11 points, six rebounds and four assists and was a big reason why the Hokies were able to pull ahead late in the half.
"Aluma is a great player. Very versatile, pick and pop, he can pretty much do whatever," Keels said.
All Duke has left to do now is wait until it hears what NCAA-tournament seed it gets on Selection Sunday.
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Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.