BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP)—Kyle Singler stood on the end line trying to inbound the ball late in a tight game and suddenly found himself reaching back for his days as a high school quarterback.
Seeing Greg Paulus waving at him and wide open on the other end of the floor, Singler threw a long pass that Paulus took in for an easy layup on Saturday, one of several critical second-half plays for Singler that helped boost No. 7 Duke past Virginia Tech, 72-65.
“It was kind of a football-football thing,” Singler said of the pass that sent Paulus, also a former quarterback, in for the basket that gave Duke a 68-63 lead with 33 seconds left.
“You get a layup at that point, God Bless America,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Singler scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half after foul trouble forced him to watch much of the first half, and he made the Hokies pay for focusing too much on Gerald Henderson. He scored 17 of his 21 points before halftime, before Singler got rolling.
“I felt like I needed to give the team a boost because I hadn’t done much in the first half,” Singler, the Blue Devils’ second-leading scorer with a 16-point average, said.
Doing it in a game that was tied with six minutes to play, and against a team that was fighting desperately for another victory to boost its NCAA tournament hopes, made it better.
“A team like that that’s hungry for a win, fighting, those are the games that you’re going to play towards the end of the season in March,” Singler said. “Game pressure like that is definitely big and it shows that this team has a lot of confidence and character.”
The Blue Devils (24-5, 10-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) won their fourth in a row and stayed a game behind ACC-leading North Carolina. The No. 4 Tar Heels beat Georgia Tech, and the ACC’s two heavyweights will close the regular season at Chapel Hill next Sunday.
“We want to win this league and we needed to get this win,” said John Scheyer, who scored 16. “We needed it not only in the league, but going into March, we need wins like this.”
Virginia Tech, meantime, is still looking for at least one more victory to boost its tournament credentials, and the Hokies felt like they missed an opportunity after A.D. Vassallo shot them back into the game. He scored 26 points to lead the Hokies (17-11, 7-7), and accounted for all 15 in a 15-4 run that drew them even with six minutes left.
But the Blue Devils outscored them 14-7 the rest of the way, and coach Seth Greenberg was livid when it was over because of a non-call that came with the Hokies trailing 68-65.
Duke inbounded the ball to Scheyer, who was immediately surrounded by several Hokies who grabbed at the ball, trying to take it away or tie him up and at least stop the clock. Scheyer spun around repeatedly to keep possession, and Greenberg thought he traveled with the ball.
“We did a great job with the press, get a good trap, and unfortunately could have had a chance to win the game, but the refs didn’t see the same walk I saw,” Greenberg said.
Instead, Duke called timeout, and Scheyer hit two free throws with 14 seconds left.
Vassallo also grabbed 10 rebounds for the Hokies, and Jeff Allen and J.T. Thompson each scored 13. Scoring leader Malcolm Delaney, forced to play point guard in the absence of ailing backup Hank Thorns, missed 10 of 12 shots and scored just seven points but had eight assists.
Duke led by 16 in the first half and 12 in the second, but had given all that back until Singler hit two free throws with 4:25 left to snap a 58-all tie. Henderson added two free throws and Singler got loose for a layup, giving Duke a 64-58 edge with 1:23 left.
After Allen hit a free throw for the Hokies, Thompson forced a jump ball on Allen’s miss, getting the Hokies the ball, and Allen’s leaning bank shot made it 64-61 with 1:06 left.
But Greg Paulus and Singler each made a free throw, and after Dorenzo Hudson’s two free throws for the Hokies made it 66-63, Singler found Paulus all alone beyond the midcourt line.
“We didn’t get matched up, obviously,” Greenberg said.
“I thought that was a pretty cheap assist if you ask me,” Scheyer said
The Hokies trailed all game until Vassallo got hot. He hit 3-pointers 38 seconds apart to pull Tech to within 56-49, and it was just the start of a 15-4 run in which he scored all of Virginia Tech’s points, finally getting them even at 58 on a 3-pointer with 6 minutes left.
Duke played without point guard Nolan Smith, who sustained a concussion in the Blue Devils’ victory at Maryland on Wednesday night and is out indefinitely.