Duke certainly can’t afford to lose momentum now - not with its ACC title hopes on the line.
In their return to conference play, the fifth-ranked Blue Devils look to extend a seven-game winning streak against struggling Virginia on Sunday night, a matchup they can’t afford to overlook with two big games looming.
Duke’s lead in the ACC shrunk to one-half game over Maryland after the Terrapins beat Virginia Tech 104-100 in double overtime Saturday night. Had Maryland lost, the Blue Devils (24-4, 11-2) would have been able to clinch at least a share of the ACC regular-season title with a win over the Cavaliers (14-12, 5-8), who have lost six straight.
Now, Duke has to avoid a letdown prior to visiting Maryland on Wednesday night in the penultimate regular-season ACC game for each team.
The Blue Devils then host arch-rival North Carolina. The Tar Heels are in last place, but would be amped up for a meaningful game and played Duke tough before losing 64-54 on Feb. 10.
“We’ve got to keep getting better,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Right now, you’ve got to keep working.”
After beating Tulsa 70-52 at home Thursday night in a break from ACC play, the Blue Devils are attempting to win their fourth straight road game. They dropped four of their previous five on the road.
Duke continues to be led by the trio of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, who combined for 50 points versus Tulsa.
Scheyer ranks third in the ACC in scoring (18.8 points per game) and fourth in assists (5.4). Smith and Singler average 17.9 and 16.9 points, respectively.
The Blue Devils have also been getting timely contributions during the winning streak from senior big men Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas. Zoubek is coming off a 10-point, 11-rebound performance, while Thomas had 10 boards - six on the offensive end.
The 7-foot-1 Zoubek is averaging 9.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks over his last four contests.
“I think that everybody has a lot more confidence in me right now - offensively, defensively and all over the court,” Zoubek said.
Duke is averaging 15.3 offensive rebounds, its most ever under Krzyzewski, and leads the ACC with a plus-6.5 rebounding margin.
Virginia got outrebounded 39-31 in a 74-62 loss at Miami on Tuesday night.
Offense has been posing the biggest problem for the Cavaliers, who are averaging 57.2 points and shooting 35.2 percent during their losing streak.
“We’re certainly struggling and we need everybody to play well,” coach Tony Bennett said. “When one or two of our key guys struggle, it’s hard for us to overcome it.”
Sophomore guard Sylven Landesberg continues to be one of Virginia’s few bright spots, averaging 17.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and shooting 40.7 percent from beyond the arc. He went 6 for 8 from 3-point range against the Hurricanes, finishing with 27 points.
In his only matchup with Duke, Landesberg had 20 points but committed five turnovers in a 79-54 Virginia loss Feb. 1, 2009, at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Blue Devils have been ranked for each of their last 28 meetings with the Cavaliers, and are 25-3 in that stretch.