After three consecutive years of being on the NCAA tournament bubble and winding up disappointed in the NIT, Virginia Tech senior Malcolm Delaney hopes the Hokies made a pretty strong case for inclusion in the big tournament this year.
The Hokies used a late 15-4 run over a span of 4½ minutes to turn a six-point deficit into a five-point lead Saturday night and they held off top-ranked Duke 64-60, getting the badly needed signature victory that could boost their NCAA credentials significantly.
"A lot of teams, down six to Duke, would have just folded up and let Duke put the game away, but we didn't," Delaney said of turning a 53-47 deficit into a 62-57 lead. "We buckled up and got stops."
Terrell Bell scored 12 points, including five straight to give Virginia Tech the lead for good with 4:19 to play, and the Blue Devils night-long shooting woes never relented.
"Our offense let us down tonight," Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
The Blue Devils shot under 40 percent and were 4 for 20 from 3-point range.
The Hokies (19-8, 9-5 Atlantic Coast Conference), got big shots from several players, but none more important than Bell. His 3-pointer from the right corner tied it with 4:40 left, and when he was fouled moments later, he said he needed the stoppage to collect himself.
"I definitely had to calm myself," he said. "It was a big moment for me. There was a lot going through my mind. I just had to take some deep breaths and knock down the free throws."
He made both, and when Jeff Allen was credited with a basket on goaltending with 2:39 left, the lead was four and it was time for Delaney, the Hokies top player, to respond.
After Kyle Singler's basket, Delaney made his only 3-pointer of the night, swishing it in from the top of the key, building the lead back to five and giving the Hokies some room.
"We were up two. I had to hit that shot," Delaney said.
The Blue Devils (26-3, 12-2) had chances in the closing minute to pull even when Virginia Tech struggled at the free throw line, but couldn't capitalize. Duke had its seven-game winning streak snapped, and lost for the first time in the last five against the Hokies.
"It was like an NCAA game," Krzyzewski said. "It was that level."
Singler led Duke with 22 points, but shot just 6 for 19, and Nolan Smith had 18.
Allen led the Hokies with 18 points and 15 rebounds. Erick Green also scored 12 and Delaney had 11 as the Hokies improved to 4-7 in their history against teams ranked No. 1.
The Hokies trailed 51-45 until Delaney's driving basket with 9:28 left. It ignited the late burst, with the last seven coming in succession to give them a 57-55 lead.
After Delaney's 3-pointer, a layin by Mason Plumlee with 1:25 left and his free throw with 23.2 seconds left was all the Blue Devils could muster the rest of the way.
"I don't fault my guys," Krzyzewski said. They're playing well. They just couldn't put the ball in the basket during that sequence."
As the buzzer sounded, fans streamed onto the court.
The Hokies led 42-37 until Andre Dawkins's 3-pointer for Duke with 16:45 to go sparked a 14-3 burst for the Blue Devils. Singler had seven points in the run, and capped it with a 3-pointer that gave Duke a 51-45 advantage with 11:08 to play.
When Delaney made a layup, just his third field goal, with 9:28 left, it pulled Virginia Tech to 51-47 — and ended a scoring drought of 4½ minutes for the home team.
But with Singler repeatedly missing open 3s for the Blue Devils — he finished 1 for 7 from behind the 3-point line — the Hokies failed to capitalize right away. Victor Davila missed a pair of free throws badly, and Delaney air-balled a 3-pointer to groans.
But then the Hokies caught fire again, and everything changed.
The game also was the first appearance at Cassell Coliseum for Seth Curry, whose father, Dell, is the second-leading scorer in Hokies history. Seth Curry was recruited by the Hokies, but wound up at Liberty and transferred to Duke after one season seeking a bigger challenge.
He was jeered in introductions, whistled for two quick fouls at the start of the game and again early in the second half, and played little. He came in for the final sequence, but threw the ball away when double teamed at the top of the key, capping a scoreless night.
The Hokies led 33-31 at halftime, and for most of the first half even though scoring leader Malcolm Delaney didn't scratch until he hit a layup just 4:39 before halftime.
Delaney managed only four shots in the half, and was blanketed on defense by Smith, who hit 6 of 10 shots and led all scorers with 12 points. Green had 10 for the Hokies.
The Blue Devils led just twice in the half, the last at 18-16, but Green's 3-pointer from the right corner launched a 13-4 run that gave the Hokies a 29-22 advantage, their largest.