Hokies upset Duke
By Mike London
DURHAM — The amazing thing wasn’t that fifth-ranked Duke was upset by unranked Virginia Tech in its ACC opener at sweltering Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
What was remarkable about the Blue Devils’ 69-67 overtime defeat was that they still had a chance to pull out the game at the buzzer, despite shortcomings that had coach Mike Krzyzewski’s voice cracking with disappointment.
Guard Jamon Gordon’s floater over 6-foot-10 Josh McRoberts with 31 seconds left in overtime turned out to be the decisive bucket.
“I knew I had to throw it high,” Gordon said. “I’m thankful it went.”
Duke (13-2, 0-1) would have won its 10th straight game despite scary statistics had Paulus’ shot gone in, but his desperate runner was banged into the bleachers by 6-foot-7 Deron Washington, who had successfully hurdled a charge-taking Paulus earlier and appeared able to leap from Durham to Blacksburg, Va., in a single bound.
Washington had watched the tapes of Virginia Tech’s last-second loss to Duke in Cameron last season a million times, and he was determined the story would have a happier ending as far as the Hokies (11-4, 2-0) were concerned.
The ending was fitting for point guard Paulus, a co-captain and preseason All-ACC pick who endured the longest day of his basketball life. When he wasn’t being lit up by Tech’s wily seniors Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon, who combined for 37 points, they were taking the ball from him.
Dowdell and Gordon also took care of the basketball. The Hokies had just seven turnovers in a
Paulus never got Duke’s halfcourt offense functioning. He didn’t score, and Duke’s 22 turnovers — which led to 20 points by the Hokies– could mostly be traced to what he did and didn’t do.
Just one of those days for a guy who is usually very efficient.
“We win and lose together, but we did play a lot of the game with our point guard not on the court,” Krzyzewski said. “That meant the guy we wanted shooting (freshman Jon Scheyer) had to handle the ball and it led to some ugly offensive exchanges.”
Identifying Duke’s ugliest offensive exchange of the first half wouldn’t be easy. Virginia Tech jumped out 8-0 on Duke turnovers.
“Confidence is the biggest thing when a team is on the road,” Duke’s DeMarcus Nelson said. “We let a good team get all kinds of confidence with that 8-0 lead.”
Nelson was heroic in defeat, scoring 22 points, hitting four
3-pointers and rebounding doggedly while dodging serious second-half foul trouble. Nelson got some assistance from Scheyer in the first half and McRoberts in the second half, but for the most part he was playing 1-on-5.
Duke got even twice in the first half but never led prior to halftime. The Blue Devils didn’t make a first-half field goal after Nelson hit a 3-pointer with 5:04 remaining but scored their last nine points of the half at the line to trail 38-33.
In the first half, Paulus and McRoberts combined for nine turnovers and zero successful field goals — McRoberts, outplayed in the first half by Virginia Tech senior Coleman Collins, did contribute numerous scowls and three free throws.
Down the stretch, Duke showed why it still has a chance to be Duke. It looked over when Nelson picked up his fourth foul with 14 minutes left, but that’s when sleeping giant McRoberts (16 points, 10 rebounds) stirred to life and started carrying Duke with power moves in the lane.
Duke tied the game at 64-64 when Nelson forced overtime with a clutch 3 from the right wing with 18 seconds left.
Virginia Tech had the last possession of regulation, and coach Seth Greenberg got the precise matchup he wanted — Dowdell against Scheyer. But Scheyer contested Dowdell’s jump-shot miss very well.
McRoberts put Duke ahead to start the overtime, but again the Blue Devils self-destructed with turnovers and forced shots. Duke freshman Gerald Henderson fired two difficult shots that made Krzyzewski frown, and when Gordon tossed in his sweet floater Duke trailed 68-67 and was in serious trouble.
David McClure missed an open 17-footer at the key with eight seconds left, and the Blue Devils were forced to foul A.D. Vassallo. Vassallo missed his second free throw, but Washington blocked Paulus’ last-ditch attempt to save the say.
“We didn’t deserve to win,” a stunned McRoberts said. “There’s no way we can play any worse.”
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or email@example.com.