Duke appears to be gaining momentum as it cruises toward a 14th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance and chases a possible ACC title, but Virginia Tech’s resume may still need some work going into the postseason.
A road victory over a ranked team in their last game certainly helped, but the Hokies would love to add another impressive win Saturday afternoon when they host the seventh-ranked Blue Devils.
Duke’s 80-74 loss at Boston College on Feb. 15 was the team’s fourth in its last six games, but the Blue Devils (23-5, 9-4) have rebounded with three straight victories, including Sunday’s 101-91 victory over then-No. 8 Wake Forest.
They won 78-67 at Maryland on Wednesday night, with junior guard Gerald Henderson continuing his steady play. After scoring 35 points against the Demon Deacons, he had 19 and eight rebounds versus the Terrapins and is averaging 20.6 points on 51.4 percent shooting in his last 14 games.
“Gerald’s kind of our catalyst. If we need a big play, it seems like he comes up with it,” Duke forward Kyle Singler said. “That’s who Gerald is. He’s a very good player. If he keeps doing what he’s been doing, we’ll be much better off.”
The Blue Devils have also benefited from the emergence of freshman guard Elliot Williams, who had a career-high 15 points and six rebounds against Maryland.
Williams is averaging just 3.7 points for the season but has scored in double figures in his last three games since entering the starting lineup, shooting 72.7 percent (16-of-22) from the field.
Duke has kept pace with rival North Carolina in the race for the ACC regular-season title, trailing the No. 4 Tar Heels by one game with a rematch looming in Chapel Hill on March 8.
Virginia Tech (17-10, 7-6) is simply trying to secure its third NCAA tournament berth in school history, a goal that took a serious hit with three straight losses from Feb. 14-21.
But the Hokies rebounded with an 80-77 win at No. 12 Clemson on Wednesday night, led by 26 points from Malcolm Delaney and 21 from A.D. Vassallo. Both players rank among the top six in the ACC in scoring.
Delaney scored 17 points in the second half against the Tigers despite playing with multiple injuries.
“I’ve got to be tough in these type of games,” said Delaney, who was thinking more about his team’s chances of reaching the field of 65.
“If we win a couple of more games,” he added, “I don’t see how they can keep us out.”
Virginia Tech also beat Wake Forest when the Demon Deacons were No. 1, and a win over Duke could help solidify a bid. The Hokies also face the Tar Heels and No. 23 Florida State to close the regular season.
The Blue Devils opened ACC play with a 69-44 home win over Virginia Tech on Jan. 4, holding the Hokies to 13 points in the second half. That game remains the only time all season Virginia Tech has been held under 60 points.
Duke will likely be without sophomore guard Nolan Smith for Saturday’s game after he suffered a mild concussion against Maryland.