BLACKSBURG, Va.—Just two days after a resume-boosting home victory against Miami, Duke made the trek to take on Virginia Tech for the first time since the Hokies knocked off the Blue Devils in last season’s ACC tournament title game. Duke started hot, but Virginia Tech quickly clawed back into it, taking control of the opening period from there. Heading into the locker room, the Hokies lead 45-38.
Virginia Tech does not have much of a men’s basketball pedigree, with only one Sweet 16 appearance (2019) in its history. Despite that, Cassell Coliseum is one of the more unique and raucous venues in the ACC, and it has proven to be a house of horrors for Duke in recent years. In their last five trips to Blacksburg, the Blue Devils are 1-4, with an average margin of defeat of just under seven in that quartet of losses.
Nearly an hour before tipoff, the student section was ready to roll, and the pregame festivities were only beginning. A team hype video, set to “Separate Ways” by Journey, coincided with a light show that led straight into the Virginia Tech staple of “Enter Sandman“ by Metallica—with fans and even Hokie forward Justyn Mutts bouncing along before tip.
This contest, ultimately, will be determined by what goes on between the 10 guys on the floor. But this has been, without question, a challenging atmosphere for a young Duke bunch to navigate, with Virginia Tech’s early 25-12 run a clue into how this crowd can get going.
Well hello there, Hunter Cattoor. Last March, the sweet-shooting Floridian exploded against the Blue Devils in the ACC tournament championship game, ripping nylon all night long en route to seven triples, 31 points and tournament MVP honors (with Virginia Tech snagging an 82-67 upset in the process).
In the first two minutes, Cattoor got a pair of excellent looks from the wing, but failed to connect on either. But he was not going to be quiet for too long, nailing a three from the top of the key to cut the Blue Devil lead to 13-12 before the first TV timeout. Cattoor then one-upped himself a few possessions later, hitting a corner trey plus the foul—but missed the ensuing free-throw. For the half, Cattoor finished 4-of-6 from downtown with 12 points, another reminder of his perimeter marksmanship.
The captain is back from his toe injury, but has not re-entered the starting lineup just yet. Coming off a three-game hiatus against Miami Saturday, the junior was terrific off the bench, with 14 points, four assists and a combo of timely steals and midrange jumpers in the second half of Duke’s 68-66 win.
Returning to his home state, Roach entered the contest with just under 14 minutes remaining before halftime. He was once again effective, finishing at the rack to bring Duke within a deuce and hitting a difficult step up over Virginia Tech forward Grant Basile roughly four minutes later.
Toe injuries are often tough to deal with, particularly for a point guard, but Roach looks comfortable for the second-straight outing. He finished the half with four points on 2-of-6 shooting from the field, but head coach Jon Scheyer needs more from his on-court leader if Duke is to take this one down to the wire.
Both teams got off to scorching hot starts, as at the under-12 timeout, Virginia Tech was shooting 75% from the field, while Duke sat at 60% from the floor. Cattoor and point guard Sean Pedulla led the way early for the Hokies, combining for 16 of their team’s first 25 points. On Duke’s side, Kyle Filipowski, Dariq Whitehead and Ryan Young were extremely proficient offensively from the outset.
Naturally, both groups cooled down offensively, but only slightly. Virginia Tech finished the half shooting 68% from the floor (and 7-of-10 from three), while the Blue Devils finished at 50%.
Player of the half: Dariq Whitehead
Confident and aggressive, the New Jersey native was a spark from midrange and beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes. At the under-four timeout, Whitehead was 2-of-2 from the land of plenty, and Duke as a team was 2-of-8. That trend continued (somewhat) to the end of the half, as besides Whitehead, only Filipowski—whose triple ended the half—has connected from outside.
Virginia Tech looks likely to keep up its impressive scoring pace in the second half. In that case, Whitehead will have to keep it going and double down on his 10-point first half.
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Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.