Duke uses second half surge to beat Virginia Tech
The Blue Devils defeated Virginia Tech 76-65 after a 29-7 run in the second half.
The tale of two halves. One of sport’s great clichés. And while that statement doesn’t entirely describe Duke’s 76-65 victory over Virginia Tech on Wednesday, there is certainly some truth that lies within.
Duke opened the game as if it was going to runaway from the Hokies right from the tip. It took all of 14 seconds for Trevor Keels to get things started with a 3-point basket.
Following a Virginia Tech two-point bucket in response, Wendell Moore Jr. lit up the Hokies for eight quick points during a span of 1:43, followed soon after by a Paolo Banchero jumper. Just like that, the Blue Devils were leading 13-4.
Duke’s onslaught did not last, though.
Virginia Tech promptly regained its composure and cut into Duke’s lead, eventually tying the game at 13 with 13:09 left on the first half clock.
From that point forward it was a dogfight, and the Blue Devils seemingly had no life on the court. One of the biggest culprits was Duke’s inability to get out in transition offensively, as the Hokies forced Mike Krzyzewski’s squad into playing its half court offense.
And Duke did not respond well. Moore’s production dipped. Banchero appeared disengaged, and made just 3 of 9 shots, while turning the ball over three of the Blue Devils’ four times in the opening 20 minutes of play.
Another primary factor in Duke’s lack of success in the first half can be attributed to its inability to control Virginia Tech big man Keve Aluma, who scored 17 points and pulled down six first half rebounds. Duke simply had no answer for him, and struggled to a degree with Justyn Mutts, who scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds.
It was clear Krzyzewski wanted his team to focus on taking away the 3-point shot, and they did a decent job of that, allowing 4 of 10 in the first half. But it came at a cost.
The result was a Virginia Tech 36-32 halftime lead.
While all of that sounds doom and gloom, here’s where the “tale of two halves” isn’t entirely a great representation. Duke wasn’t bad in the first half, it just was not able to dictate the pace or assert its will on the Hokies.
The second half was a different story.
As mentioned, Duke’s defense was not exactly the most complete effort we have seen. They took away one thing — the 3-point shot — only to be torched by another — Aluma.
That all quickly changed. The Blue Devils were outstanding for most of the second half on defense. And it changed everything.
After giving up two quick buckets to the Hokies and being outscored 6-2 through the first 2:05, Duke flipped a switch. And in the snap of a finger, this game had a very, very different look. Trailing 42-34, the Blue Devils outscored the Hokies 29-7 over the next 10:20, and jumped out to a 63-49 advantage with 7:35 remaining in the game.
The ignition for Duke’s explosive second half proved to be a more complete defensive effort. Virginia Tech turned the ball over five times during that stretch, resulting in 10 points. The Hokies’ miscues allowed Duke to get out and run, limiting their time in their halfcourt offense.
Additionally, Duke locked down Aluma for most of the second half. He scored eight points in the final 20 minutes, but four of those did not come until the final five minutes of play. He posted 25 points and 10 rebounds for the game. Mutts had a strong half, finishing with 12 in second, and 20 for the game, but ultimately neither could put together a consistent stretch effort for the entirety of the half.
Meanwhile, Duke made it next to impossible for the Hokies to find open looks from 3. The Blue Devils did a great job playing the passing lanes, cutting off dribble drive opportunities and forced difficult shots from the perimeter. The result was a 1-of-9 effort from 3-point range in the half.
Duke also owned the glass in the second half, out-rebounding the Hokies 16-11, while allowing only five offensive boards. Though Duke still needs to do a better, more consistent job on the backboards, Krzyzewski’s squad did win the rebounding battle, 32-31. They also allowed just eight second chance points on the night.
SECOND HALF OFFENSIVE SURGE
Duke’s second half offensive surge was really a team effort, and came as a result of outstanding defense and the ability to win on the glass.
That said, make no mistake about it, Banchero’s play in the second half was a difference maker. After struggling in the first half, he exploded for 17 second half points on 6-of-11 shooting, while also pulling down six boards.
He was practically unstoppable, ultimately finishing the night with 23 points and eight boards. He also added three assists.
As important as his effort was in the final 20 minutes, perhaps A.J. Griffin’s were just as big. With Krzyzewski choosing to go small in the second half, opting for Griffin over Mark Williams, the freshman responded in a big way, scoring 10 points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting and 1-of-1 from the free throw line. He added three rebounds, one assist, one block and one steal along the way.
He concluded his night with 13 points and four rebounds. Beyond the stats, though, it was his energy, and effort on defense that helped catapult his huge performance.
Duke’s second half surge didn’t stop with those two, however.
Trevor Keels’ play was equally impressive, as he posted eight of his 13 points in the second half, making 3-of-4 shots and knocking down both of his attempted free throws. Then, of course, there was Moore, who added six points to his 18 for the game. He once again impacted the game in a variety of ways, finishing with four rebounds and four assists.
The Blue Devils showed Wednesday that their patented runs are still alive and well.
IF THERE’S ONE COMPLAINT …
This team has proven all year long that it’s an unselfish squad. Its assists totals have been proof — Duke led the ACC with 18.5 per game heading into tonight, which also ranked them No. 9 in the nation.
Despite the team’s offensive success in the second half, it did not come as a product of sharing the basketball. That said, Duke was out and running a lot, which cut down on that number. Banchero was also given the green light to work one-on-one quite a bit.
So, those facts alone skew the number some. But, Duke did have just three assists on 16 made shots in the second half. They had seven on 13 made shots in the first. By game’s end, they were sitting at 8.5 fewer assists than their game average.
While that number certainly is not ideal, at this stage, there shouldn’t be any real reason for concern. It’s one game. And it’s an outlier in terms of performance over the course of the year.
It is something worth keeping an eye on, though. In Duke’s three other games against power programs — Kentucky, Gonzaga and Ohio State — they only once came close to the season average and that came against Gonzaga when they posted 17.
In these four games, including tonight’s with Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils are averaging 11.5 assists per game. Compare that to 20.9 against the mid-majors on the team’s schedule.
So, is it a major concern now? No. The sample size is too small.
Is it something to pay attention to going forward? Absolutely.