Duke enters its ACC opener on a roll and with a healthy point guard.
The No. 5 Blue Devils are expected to have Nolan Smith available as they look for a fourth straight victory when they host Virginia Tech on Sunday night.
Duke (11-1) received a scare when sophomore starter Smith suffered a knee injury early in a 92-51 win over Loyola, Md on New Year’s Eve. Though there was concern at the time, Smith, who replaced three-year starting senior Greg Paulus at the point, has been able to practice and should be ready for this contest.
“I was nervous. I didn’t want it to be anything serious with this being the knee I’ve hurt,” said Smith, who’s averaging 10.9 points and 2.3 assists. “They said I should definitely be back. I’m just going to ice it and should be ready (against Virginia Tech).”
So should the Blue Devils, who shot 53.1 percent and averaged 91.0 points in their last three victories against Loyola, then-No. 7 Xavier and North Carolina-Asheville since losing at Michigan on Dec. 6.
That recent success and a healthy Smith should help keep the momentum high for the Blue Devils, who were picked to finish second in the league behind No.1 North Carolina after finishing 13-3 and second to the Tar Heels last season.
“I think ACC games are definitely a little higher intensity, especially the first one,” said forward Gerald Henderson, who had 19 points versus Loyola. “It’s going to be a different kind of game. It’s a game where you see what you’re playing for. In regular-season (non-ACC) games, you’re trying to win obviously, but there’s nothing really at stake. In the ACC, there’s something more at stake.”
Duke faces Virginia Tech (9-4) for the first time at Cameron Indoor Arena since the Hokies won 69-67 in overtime there to open ACC play in 2006-07. That was the Blue Devils’ only loss to the Hokies in 14 home games.
Duke won 81-64 at Virginia Tech in the only meeting between the teams last season to improve to 33-7 all-time versus the Hokies. Kyle Singler led Duke with 16 points and nine rebounds in that contest and is averaging a team-leading 16.3 points and 7.8 boards this season.
The sophomore forward posted 20 points and eight rebounds against Loyola as the Blue Devils shot 55 percent and scored 34 points off 24 turnovers.
Virginia Tech enters this contest having won four in a row, including a 75-66 victory over Charleston Southern on Monday. Swingman A.D. Vassallo and Malcom Delaney each had 16 points for the Hokies, whose four loses have each come by four points or less.
“They are just a veteran team,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told the Blue Devils’ official Web site of the Hokies, who finished fourth in the ACC at 9-7 in 2007-08. “I think they are a really good basketball team.”
The senior Vassallo is averaging 19.0 points per game, but has scored just 22 in his last two games versus Duke. Sophomore Delaney is averaging 16.7 on the season and was held to four on 1-of-6 shooting versus the Blue Devils last season.
Virginia Tech is looking to avoid an eighth straight loss to a ranked opponent since winning at No. 4 North Carolina in overtime on Feb. 13. 2007.