Banchero scores 23 as No. 2 Duke beats Virginia Tech in ACC opener
Published 11:48 pm Wednesday, December 22, 2021
By AARON BEARD
AP Basketball Writer
DURHAM (AP) — Paolo Banchero had 23 points and second-ranked Duke shot 62% after halftime to beat Virginia Tech 76-65 on Wednesday night in its Atlantic Coast Conference opener.
Banchero scored 17 points in that dominant second half, fueled by the move to a smaller lineup around the versatile 6-foot-10 star freshman. That helped Duke (11-1, 1-0 ACC) erase an eight-point deficit early in the second half while slowing Keve Aluma after his big first-half performance.
Wendell Moore Jr. added 18 points for Duke, which has won four straight.
Banchero sparked the go-ahead push from a 42-36 deficit, scoring on a drive, then sticking back his own miss and following with a step-back 3-pointer — all against Aluma. Banchero followed that by getting airborne and then zipping a pass to a cutting Trevor Keels for a layup and a 43-42 lead at the 14:31 mark.
The lead grew from there, with Banchero scoring on an up-and-under move against Aluma and then putting in his own miss to cap a 27-7 run that pushed Duke to a 63-49 advantage with 7:35 to go.
It was a dominant stretch from Duke’s star freshman, who had been thoroughly outplayed by the 6-9 redshirt senior in the opening half.
Virginia Tech (8-5, 0-2) thrice closed to within seven in the final 5 1/2 minutes, and had a terrific opportunity to draw even closer when Aluma got a wide-open corner 3 down 72-65. But he couldn’t connect, and then Keels followed with two free throws and a transition layup off a steal to all but seal this one.
Aluma had 17 points before halftime to help the Hokies lead 36-32 at the break, but things were tougher the rest of the way as he finished with 25 points to go with 10 rebounds.
Justyn Mutts added 20 points for the Hokies, who shot 43% for the game and went just 1 of 9 on 3-pointers after halftime..
Virginia Tech: The Hokies had split their last four games, including a loss to Wake Forest in their conference opener. Mike Young’s team played with composure through the opening half and early in the second, but never managed to counter Duke once the Blue Devils got rolling downhill. Virginia Tech, which joined the ACC for the 2004-05 season, has still won only once (January 2007) at the Blue Devils’ famously hostile Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke: The Blue Devils entered this one with three straight nonconference wins, the last one coming against Elon over the weekend after two previous opponents had to back out due to COVID-19 protocols. The first league win of Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski’s farewell season came after the move to the smaller lineup, with 6-6 freshman A.J. Griffin (13 points) subbing in for center Mark Williams at the 16:53 mark playing a big role as the group raised the energy level, got more active defensively and turned the Blue Devils loose more frequently in transition.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies visit North Carolina next Wednesday.
Duke: The Blue Devils visit Clemson next Wednesday.
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