Virginia Tech’s play in February has put the Hokies near the top of the ACC. Duke’s similar success this month is why it remains in first place in the league.
With each team looking for a sixth straight victory, the sixth-ranked Blue Devils try for a fourth consecutive win over the surging Hokies on Sunday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke (22-4, 10-2) has a one-game edge over Maryland in the conference, with Virginia Tech 1 1/2 games behind the Blue Devils. Both teams are undefeated in February.
“For both teams, I feel like it’s a must-win. We can separate ourselves in first place, and they can get closer to first place with a win, so both teams are going to be playing as hard as they can,” Duke guard Nolan Smith told the school’s official Web site. “It’s going to be a very hard-fought game.”
While both are playing well, the deciding factor could be how well the Hokies (21-4, 8-3) handle the hostile environment of Cameron.
Duke is 14-0 at home and has won each of its six league games in Durham by at least 14 points. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is 1-16 at Cameron, losing 69-44 in its last visit Jan. 4, 2009. That came almost exactly two years after the Hokies won 69-67 in overtime at Duke.
Virginia Tech, however, might be playing with more confidence than any team in the league after beating No. 23 Wake Forest 87-83 at home Tuesday.
“We’ve still got a couple games where we’ve got a point to prove and show people that we’re a good team,” said Hokies junior guard Malcolm Delaney, the ACC’s leading scorer at 20.2 points per game.
Though Delaney has averaged 7.7 points and shot 9 of 30 in three games against Duke, he scored 10 of his 31 in the final 7 minutes to help the Hokies upset the Demon Deacons.
Delaney’s ability to get to the foul line could also make a difference Sunday. He is shooting 84.4 percent from the line and has attempted a league-high 198 free throws.
While Delaney is one of the conference’s best players, he’ll likely need help for the Hokies to pull off a second straight upset. Backcourt mate Dorenzo Hudson is averaging 14.0 points, but has totaled four points and shot 0 of 10 in three games versus the Blue Devils.
Duke returns home after rallying to win 81-74 over Miami on Wednesday. Down 12 at the half, the Blue Devils took advantage of 22 Hurricanes turnovers and outscored them 56-37 in the final 20 minutes.
“(Coach Mike Krzyzewski) called us out,” said Smith, who had 21 points. “He let us know, ‘It’s now or never. You can take control of the ACC right now or put ourselves in a hole.’”
Jon Scheyer, second to Delaney at 19.1 points per contest, had 15 on 3-of-15 shooting while dealing with a sore back. He has averaged 11.3 points on 40.0 percent shooting in four games versus Virginia Tech.
The Blue Devils’ second-half defense was the difference against Miami. Opponents have averaged 62.8 points and 14.4 turnovers during Duke’s current winning streak.
“A lot of times, our defense gives us offense,” Scheyer said.
Duke preseason All-American Kyle Singler had 22 points and 11 rebounds against Miami. He has averaged 18.7 points in three games against Virginia Tech.