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Hokie Hardwood: Duke

By Grant Mitchell | January 12
Tyrece radford duke
Photo: Roanoke Times

The #20 Virginia Tech Hokies (10-2, 4-1) defeated the #19 Duke Blue Devils (5-3, 3-1) in Blacksburg, Virginia Tuesday evening, 74-67.

The weeknight bout matched a talented Duke team against what has emerged as arguably the prestige of this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference, Virginia Tech.

With Frank Beamer overlooking for the second consecutive game, the Hokies came out with an intensity and heightened level of aggressiveness that had not been seen in over a month, if at all this season.

Head Coach Mike Young and the rest of the VT squad rode the momentum of a quick start throughout the first half and managed to hold off attempted runs from Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils in the second, stamping their fourth win of conference play and third defeat of a Top 25 team in three tries this season. Duke never led at any point during the contest.

The Plot

Just two days removed from a weekend defense of Cassell against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the Virginia Tech Hokies managed to pull off their most encouraging win of the season thanks to total team effort and outstanding individual performances.

Coach Young’s men set the tone from the opening tip: Tyrece Radford steamrolled towards the basket every time down while Justyn Mutts won the physical battle in the post. Defensively, the entire team applied air-tight man defense that frustrated the visiting Blue Devils. Coach K’s squad seemed outmatched, overwhelmed and flat out inferior to open the game.

Active hands from the maroon and orange helped create a number of fast break opportunities, disrupting the Duke offense while energizing the home Hokies.

As if the flaming-hot start was not enough, the nuclear weapon that is Jalen Cone drained two threes mere moments after entering the ballgame, reminding everyone why he is the most valuable sixth man in the ACC.

A 12-0 run and easy opportunities at the basket allowed the 20th ranked Hokies to explode out to an early 29-12 lead, their most lethal start against a powerhouse opponent this season.

This level of play would not falter for the remainder of the opening period as the Hokies entered the intermission leading 46-34, marking the most points that they have scored in a half against a Power Five Conference opponent this season. Leading the way was Tyrece Radford, who had already surpassed his season average for points with 14, along with eight rebounds and three assists.

The beginning of the second half marked the return to Earth: the VT offense began to stall as full court pressure and tactical adjustments wore on the players.

Wabissa Bede found himself in foul trouble less than a minute into the closing half, forcing Mike Young to insert Hunter Cattoor into vital stretches of the contest.

Amongst the growing excitement of the bout, the headlining stars in Keve Aluma and Matthew Hurt asserted their dominance down the stretch.

After scoring just eight points on 3-8 shooting in the first 20 minutes, Duke’s Matthew Hurt scored eight points on back-to-back-to-back possessions to draw his team within one point of the lead with 13:13 remaining.

Keve Aluma, equal to the challenge, responded by scoring 11 of his team’s next 14 points and flying through the air to secure a block that effectively ended the Blue Devils’ hopes of winning with just over a minute on the clock.

The Hokies withstood every run that Duke mounted against them, showing their class as a unit from top to bottom.

The Players

Tyrece Radford picked a perfect time to put forth his best performance of the season, notching a double-double with 18 points, 12 rebounds (four offensively), five assists and a block. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana native lived up to his nickname “Boots”, assigned to him for being “as tough as a piece of leather”, continuously attacking the visiting Blue Devils on both ends.

After struggling to find his place in recent ballgames, Radford reminded onlookers why he is such a vital component to Mike Young’s tournament-bound team.

Keve Aluma joined Radford in living up to the moment, notching 17 points and seven rebounds along with a block and a steal. Most importantly, when his team needed him the most, Aluma answered the call: the big man kept the Virginia Tech offense steady, hit some quality shots in the mid-range and around the rim and played physical defense throughout the closing moments.

“[Aluma was] just enormous… [he] is presenting himself very well right now” declared Mike Young after the ballgame, paying the star forward the biggest compliment that he could receive.

Jalen Cone had another inspirational performance off the bench: the sophomore guard put up fourteen points on 60% shooting from beyond the arc and went 3-3 from the free throw line, continuing upon an impressive stretch that has seen him average 17.2 points over his last six games.

All of the Hokies deserve special recognition for their play Tuesday: Justyn Mutts made the game’s first three-pointer and competed relentlessly, Nahiem Alleyne filled in the gaps and was ready to shoot when the opportunity presented itself, Wabissa Bede calmed the offense during moments of panic and stuffed two shots, David N’Guessan provided physicality inside and Hunter Cattoor protected the ball offensively and drew yet another charge. Even freshman Darius Maddox, who only played for two minutes, seemed like he belonged in the high-level action.

The Pretenses

Virginia Tech dropped to 20th in the national rankings at the start of the week, one spot higher than they had enjoyed the week prior: this #19 spot was in-turn rewarded to Duke.

The Hokies entered tip-off as winners of their most recent matchup against Notre Dame, though they did stumble against #16 Louisville last week. Tech showed their desperation to remedy any doubts about their program in the final minutes against the Irish, suffocating them defensively and holding them to just 2-19 shooting over the entire second half.

Virginia Tech is shaped much differently than pundits predicted during the offseason: two transfers in Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts have locked down starting spots while Hunter Cattoor, predominantly a shooting guard, has played an abundance of minutes at the point in recent games.

The #19 Duke Blue Devils, exploding with talent, have had a tough start to their season. A number cancellations and postponements sidelined the University from December 16th to January 6th, depriving them of game experience and repetitions.

The Blue Devils have been headlined by the ACC’s leading scorer in forward Matthew Hurt: the 6’9 sophomore entered Tuesday averaging 19.6 points and 8.1 rebounds, both team highs.

The Postgame

“I’ve got a pretty good team. I think we got a chance to be really good.”

— Mike Young, Head Coach

The VT coach offered significant praise to his team and their potential, aiming at higher standards and expectations in the future.

"They [Hokies] are good... the kid [Tyrece] Radford was the best player on the court."

— Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Head Coach

Duke's legendary Head Coach praised Virginia Tech as a team as well as Tyrece Radford, nominating him as the standout player from Tuesday's action.

“Don’t take your foot off the gas.”

— Tyrece Radford, Guard

The sophomore presented the media with the concise message that was circulating his mind throughout the entirety of the ballgame.

“We still have a lot of improvement that we can [make]… [we] have a great coaching staff that makes it easier for us.”

— Keve Aluma, Forward

The hero of the second half remained as patient as ever after the game, pointing out that his team can continue to get better and will aim to thanks to the help of the coaches on board.

The Performance

If there were ever any doubts, Tuesday’s victory over the #19 Duke Blue Devils confirmed the hype behind the 2020-21 Virginia Tech Men’s Basketball team.

The Hokies do not have the flashiest names on their roster, but they compete as a whole and are able to adjust to their opponent’s tendencies.

The backcourt pairing of Cattoor and Cone have come alive in recent games while the usual frontline rotation of Radford, Mutts and Aluma continue to provide in moments of need.

After being declared the 11th best team in the ACC during the offseason, the Hokies seem more fit for the list of top 11 teams in the nation. Coach Young’s squad will welcome a few days of rest before traveling to North Carolina to take on the 3-3 Wake Forest Demon Deacons Sunday, January 17th.

Twelve games, ten wins, three defeats of ranked opponents and a 4-1 conference record: the Hokies are here to stay.