With the chances of winning the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season dwindling, the sixth-ranked Duke Blue Devils set their sights on finishing strong, starting with Thursday night's clash with the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Although, Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils sport an identical 22-3 overall record as the Miami Hurricanes, it is Miami sitting atop the league standings, holding a three and a half game lead in the standings. Duke's shot at catching the red-hot Hurricanes may have ended last weekend, with an 83-81 setback at Maryland, dropping the team to 9-3 in conference play and bringing an end to a six-game win streak for Duke.
James Johnson's first season in Blacksburg has not exactly gone according to plan. The Hokies are a mere 11-14 overall, thanks mostly to the team's struggles in-conference. Virginia Tech resides in the conference cellar at 2-10 and is currently mired in an eight-game losing streak. The Hokies almost ended the skein last weekend, but lost a heart-breaking overtime decision at NC State, 90-86.
Duke has dominated this series, holding a 40-8 series advantage all-time. The Blue Devils have won four straight and eight of the last nine meetings, overall.
It came down to free throws in the end and unfortunately for Duke, it was Maryland that got the last opportunity at the charity stripe, with freshman Seth Allen sinking two free throws to propel the Terrapins to victory over the Blue Devils. Seth Curry did his best to get Duke in the win column, pouring in 25 points in the loss. Quinn Cook posted 18 points and Josh Hairston finished with 1l. Duke forced Maryland into 26 turnovers, but the Terps outrebounded the Blue Devils, 40-20.
Duke is at its best when senior forward Mason Plumlee is dominating on the inside. He has done that on a regular basis this year, shooting .595 from the floor overall and leading Duke in both scoring (17.6 ppg) and rebounding (10.4 rpg). Curry is the perfect complement with his perimeter accuracy, netting 16.9 ppg, shooting .419 from behind the arc (62-of-148). Cook (12.3 ppg) and Rasheed Sulaimon (11.7 ppg) have picked up the scoring slack caused by a foot injury to sharp-shooter Ryan Kelly (13.4 ppg).
Erick Green filled up the basket again, netting a game-high 29 points, but it wasn't enough in the overtime loss to the Wolfpack. Jarell Eddie added 17 points off the bench and Marshall Wood recorded his first career double-double with 14 points and a career-high 16 rebounds, but NC State took advantage of 43 attempts from the free-throw line, outscoring Tech 31-11 from the charity stripe.
Green has been doing it all season long and remains the nation's top scorer, netting 25.3 ppg. With his scoring prowess, it is a bit of a surprise to see Green tops on the team in assists as well, doling out 4.1 apg. Eddie (13.0 ppg) is a distant second in the scoring column for Tech, which has little depth after him. Overall, Virginia Tech is averaging a modest 71.4 ppg, doing so on a mere 42.0 percent shooting.