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Three points: Improved defense, late-game discipline can help Duke men's basketball to win at Virginia Tech

Dereck Lively II hangs from the rim after a dunk against Miami.
Dereck Lively II hangs from the rim after a dunk against Miami.

After Duke’s down-to-the-wire finish against No. 17 Miami, it faces yet another road challenge in Blacksburg, Va., against Virginia Tech. Here are three points to the Blue Devils’ success Monday evening:

Swing the momentum

Duke truly rallied in the late stretches against Miami to take down a tough conference opponent, putting all thoughts of its loss at Clemson behind it. The clear difference between the two games was a nearly 28% increase in 3-point shooting, led by freshmen Tyrese Proctor and Dariq Whitehead, who went 3-for-7 and 2-for-3, respectively. However, the momentum of a ranked win is overshadowed by an even more vital spark as the Blue Devils travel to Cassell Coliseum—the return of junior captain Jeremy Roach. Playing an unexpected 27 minutes, the third most of any Duke player, Roach was crucial to Duke’s success against Miami. He scored 14 points on 6-of-10 field goals, contributed four of the team’s 19 assists and picked up two steals, including one with less than 15 seconds left in the second half. As for Virginia Tech, the Hokies have lost their last seven games by a combined 35 points. In order to build confidence on the road, the Blue Devils must continue to dominate behind a healthy Roach while keeping the Hokies in their winless slump.

Physicality and defense

Led by Justyn Mutts with 7.7 per game, Virginia Tech averages only 35.7 rebounds per game, and its roster is somewhat small; no starter is taller than 6-foot-9. Freshmen Kyle Filipowski and Dereck Lively II dominated the glass against Miami—Filipowski with 14 rebounds and Lively with 10. But the Blue Devils were rewarded for their physicality by being able to extend possessions, where a total of 16 offensive rebounds provided 16 points. On the attack, Duke looked fearless in the paint. Roach, Lively and Filipowski had multiple tough finishes that certainly raised the team’s confidence. In addition to rebounds, Lively displayed stellar physicality in his defense, recording five blocks. As Lively continues to improve, Duke looks much stronger on the defensive end, which should help limit potential scoring runs for Virginia Tech.

Limit droughts

One weakness that Duke has outlined this season, especially on the road, is getting stuck in scoring droughts. The Blue Devils were ahead by seven against Miami, but could not score a field goal in the last five minutes. Shooting 60% from the free-throw line, including two late misses on one-and-ones that could have affected the game, also added to Duke’s late scoring woes. However, the return of Roach stabilized the team, seen by his important late-game steal that led him to the line. In the previous three games, the Blue Devils missed the veteran’s experience and his ability to clutch. This season, Virginia Tech has proven that it is capable of taking the game to the final possession, the prime example being a loss to Clemson Saturday on a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left. Duke will need a resilient defense that can lead to confident offense and consistent free-throw shooting if it hopes to win on the road.


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