On Feb. 26, once again, the Hokies stepped their game to another level to once again take down No. 3 Duke, for the second consecutive year and the third time in the last decade on the same calendar day.
The Hokies relied on the play of Kerry Blackshear, who has become the team’s most valuable player, its safety blanket, and an All-ACC candidate over the last month. Blackshear continued his 20-point game streak, which now sits at four after finishing tonight’s game with a game high 23 points while playing all 40 minutes. Mike Krzyzewski mentioned this week the impressive tear Blackshear had been on during his ACC conference call, and noted that stopping him would be the Blue Devil’s most important task defensively. However, Duke just became the latest team to find out they had no answers for Blackshear’s diverse and efficient game.
Tech started off hot, making three of their first four three-point attempts en route to scoring 14 points in the first five minutes of play. But the game soon turned ugly after that, with both teams ending the half shooting around 40 percent from the floor. Tech took a 37-34 lead into halftime with both sides playing an even game. Duke committed seven turnovers in the first half which led the Hokies’ to use their potent fast break offense, an aspect of the game we had not seen over the last month.
Blackshear led the charge, but for the first time since Justin Robinson’s injury in Miami, the entire supporting cast stepped up and played well. Tech’s 77 point outing was the highest by the team since that Miami game, Ahmed Hill had his best game in weeks, Isaiah Wilkins chipped in with hustle plays and smart basketball plays, and Wabissa Bede became a legitimate perimeter threat for the first time since the Hokies’ win over NC State. Overall, the Hokies shot 46 percent from the floor and 30.8 percent from three; not great numbers, but Tech put constant pressure on the rim with dribble penetration allowing them to shoot 29 free throws.
In the second half, Virginia Tech extended the lead to five numerous times, only to have Duke answer with a quick spurt of their own. Much of the attention has been on Zion, but the Blue Devils’ other two five star freshman came to play. RJ Barrett, who was held in check in the first half with just 4 points in the period, found his groove and began to carve up the Hokies with his left hand. He scored a team-high 17 points over the final 20 minutes, helping Duke shoot 54 percent from the floor in the second half.
The Hokies were able to make timely shots late in the second half, and took a 70-63 lead with four minutes remaining. However, Duke showed their firepower and talent, storming back with a 7-0 run to tie the game at 70 with two minutes left. Still, There was a calm presence in the huddle even while weathering Duke’s comeback, and the group remained unfazed and composed. As he’s done all year, Buzz Williams drew up a perfect play to get Ty Outlaw wide open in the corner for his third triple of the game, cementing the final lead change of the night. On the next possession, Blackshear fittingly snagged an offensive rebound to put the game on ice.
Three other players joined Blackshear as double-digit scorers for the Hokies. Ahmed Hill was second on the team with 17 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Ty Outlaw had 11 points, most of which came from his three triples. Nickeil Alexander-Walker had 13 points on low efficiency, but had his best game carrying out his point-guard responsibilities in Robinson’s absence.
In a season full of adversity, this team has navigated the highs and lows expertly, and at the very least should be a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament assuming there are no major upsets along the way. Virginia Tech also set a program record as they clinched their eleventh conference win, the most in a single season.
This win also allows the Hokies a legitimate chance to compete for the No. 4 seed in the ACC tournament. The next step towards achieving that goal is in Tallahassee next Tuesday against No. 18 Florida State. A win would almost assuredly give that critical No. 4 seed to the Hokies as they would have the tie-breaker or more conference wins than nearly every team aside from Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia.
Depending on when Robinson gets back onto the floor, the Hokies could possibly have set themselves up for a nice run as we inch closer to Selection Sunday.