ACC Basketball: Seniors lead Duke past Tech
DURHAM— The last home game for Duke’s three seniors unexpectedly was tight until they turned it into a rout by doing what they do best.
Seth Curry hit 3-pointers. Mason Plumlee battled in the paint.
And Ryan Kelly — well, he did a little bit of everything to help the third-ranked Blue Devils pull away and beat Virginia Tech 85-57 on Tuesday night.
“It’s hard (to focus) until you realize you’re about to lose or it’s possible you could lose,” Plumlee said.
Curry scored 20 points with five 3-pointers, and Kelly added 18 points with team bests of nine rebounds and five assists in his second straight strong performance since coming back from an injury.
Plumlee finished with 14 points for Duke (26-4, 13-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), which shot nearly 52 percent yet struggled for a while in a classic trap-game scenario before outscoring the Hokies 32-10 during the final 12-plus minutes to finish unbeaten at home for the 17th time in school history.
“We’re emotionally spent,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We’re not as physically spent as we are emotionally. It’s been a heck of a thing. … I’m proud of our guys. I thought the three seniors just asserted themselves in the second half.”
Erick Green scored 25 points on 10 of 19 shooting to lead Virginia Tech (13-17, 4-13), which hasn’t beaten a team in the upper half of the league standings all season.
“We were right there, but we didn’t put a 40-minute game together,” Green said. “We played 30 minutes, and then they just blew us out.”
Still, for much of the game, they found a way to keep pace with Duke. Jarell Eddie’s jumper with 121/2 minutes left pulled Virginia Tech to 53-47.
Kelly capped Duke’s next possession with an extraordinary effort to stick back a rebound after Tyler Thornton had a shot blocked. The Blue Devils outrebounded Virginia Tech by 12 in the second half.
“That’s a point of emphasis for us, period,” Kelly said. “Rebounding’s obviously something that, in the past, hasn’t been our biggest strength. And if you can take your lesser strengths and make them bigger strengths, you can be a really good team.”
That started a game-ending run in which the Blue Devils scored on 15 of their final 16 possessions and included curtain calls for the three seniors.
The Blue Devils improved to 17-0 this season with Kelly — a 6-foot-11 floor-stretching threat who missed nearly two months with a right foot injury. He scored 36 points last time out in his first game back, a 79-76 victory over then-No. 5 Miami three nights earlier.
“Kelly gives them a whole other level,” said Eddie, who finished with 13 points. “They’re really able to spread the floor. It’s tough to guard all those guys.”
Quinn Cook also had 14 points while Curry — the son of former Virginia Tech and NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry — hit a handful of 3s against his dad’s alma mater for the second time in 13 days.
There were traps aplenty in this one for the Blue Devils, who had a tough time generating the same high level of emotional energy that they had against the Hurricanes.
Couple that with rival North Carolina looming ahead this weekend, and it might have been easy for Duke to look past a last-place Virginia Tech team that the Blue Devils had beaten by 32 in Blacksburg yet quietly entered having won two of three.
“We definitely had to be (wary), and I think we were,” Kelly said. “We knew we had to be prepared.”
Cameron was energized for the Senior Night festivities — but not much else — during a first half surprisingly led for much of the way by the Hokies.
Duke outscored Virginia Tech 26-11 during a 9-minute stretch to turn a seven-point deficit into an eight-point lead, but led just 38-35 at the end of a sluggish opening 20 minutes. Duke pushed its lead to 12 slightly over 4 minutes into the second half on a Curry 3 before Green briefly brought the Hokies right back.
“You have a different type of emotion coming into the game — you want to play well really badly,” Curry said. “You don’t want to be nostalgic and think about it being your last game, but you can’t help it. I think that’s why we got off to a slow start.”