Sometimes, the home/road splits prove to be plenty good predictors of what is going to happen. Tonight, that proved quite true for Virginia Tech vs Duke inside Cameron Indoor Stadium in a game where the Hokies were never particularly in it from the start.
Duke beat Virginia Tech 81-65 with the Hokies falling to 16-13 on the season including 6-12 in ACC play while the Blue Devils improved to 21-8 including 12-6 in ACC play.
Composure was lacking for the Hokies early on in the nightmare that can be Cameron Indoor with the Blue Devils going on a 19-5 game-opening run before Mike Young mercifully used a timeout at the 13:02 mark. During that stretch, the Hokies were 1-10 from the field after Sean Pedulla's opening 3 while having a pair of turnovers in the process
Part of the reason for the slow start was due to Duke simply being way more physical in the eyes of Mike Young.
"They were David. There's no other way to put it. Our team knows that," Young said. "I've seen that happen a time or 2 (at Cameron Indoor). I've been a part of it a time or 2 in here. It can happen (here), and that is a credit to Duke's players and their coaching staff."
While Tech did find their offensive composure and rhythm after that timeout, Tech had put themselves in a deep hole that left them down 43-32 at halftime.
Duke then put together an even bigger run early in the second half putting up 16-straight points on the Hokies to put this game well out of reach after the lead briefly got down to 8 a couple times in the opening 2 minutes of the second half. This came when Tech knew coming out of halftime that they had a chance to climb back into it with a great opening few minutes and while the first couple were good, what followed became the final nail in the coffin of this game.
"I thought we were okay, not great by any stretch. We needed a great start. We needed the first 4 minutes to be in our favor to find ourselves at the under 16 down 6 (or) 7, but it got away from us. I thought we had a couple of good shots. We did have a couple of turnovers in that stretch that hurt us. You just can't do that in Cameron. You can't do that against a team the caliber of Duke," Mike Young said.
Duke was dominant in just about every facet starting in pure shooting as the Hokies had a disappointing defensive night and the Blue Devils pounced shooting 56.6% (30-53) from the field. Tech may have also been fortunate that Duke didn't better than 7-18 from three-point range as the Blue Devils had their fair share of quality perimeter opportunities.
Offensively, Tech had only 9 turnovers on the evening, but their quality of shots weren't great in those first 7 minutes when their offensive composure and rhythm was not there. They finished the night at 40.4% from the field and if you take out those opening 7 minutes, they went 21-46 from the field which is pretty solid any way you imagine it. Unfortunately, those first 7 minutes couldn't be ignored in the final score of this game.
Duke did a great job of getting out in transition not just off turnovers but in general having a 14-5 fast break points advantage and a 13-5 points off turnovers advantage including 11 points off Tech's first 6 turnovers. They were also dominated in the paint 42-30 in what was a domination in just about every facet.
Mark Mitchell played a big part as Tech didn't really have an answer for him on his way to having 17 points on an insanely efficient 6-8 from the field plus 4-4 from the free-throw line. MJ Collins was big defensively against him in the first game, but it's hard to win that matchup back-to-back times with the size gap that Collins has to Mitchell.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Roach was big in this game with a 19-point, 10-assist double-double. All 5 Duke starters were in double figures in this one with Dereck Lively II having 13 on a perfect 6-6 and 1-1 from the free-throw line, Kyle Filipowski adding 12, and Tyrese Proctor having 10.
If there was one positive tonight, it was definitely the play of Rodney Rice. For the first time this season, Rice played in back-to-back games after injuries prevented him from doing so following his debut at Syracuse. Rice played well finishing with 11 points on 3-7 from the field including 3-5 from three-point range plus 2-3 at the free-throw line along with having 2 steals, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists.
There's no doubt that Rodney Rice is starting to play more like the big time talent that he is with Rice crediting that largely to the rhythm he's getting from just having more live game and practice reps while also knowing he still has more.
"This is only my third game. I've been practicing more, getting more into rhythm, getting my feet under me. It still hasn't completely gotten there, but it's getting there," Rice said.
Grant Basile led the Hokies in scoring with 15 points on 5-10 shooting while adding 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Sean Pedulla had 12 points on 5-14 from the field including 2-9 in the first half in what was a rough opening 20 minutes for Tech's star point guard. He also had 5 rebounds and a block.
Justyn Mutts added 11 points while MJ Collins had a quiet 2 points. Mylyjael Poteat and Lynn Kidd were held to 2 each though Poteat had 5 rebounds and Kidd added 4. John Camden had a 3 and Camden Johnson added a free throw albeit those points and their playing time came in the final few minutes with the game well out of hand.
Duke shut Hunter Cattoor down as he had only 6 points while taking only 4 shot attempts all game going 2-4 on them.
In the process, it became clear to Mike Young that part of Duke's plan was to make sure that if they lost this game, it wasn't going to be due to Hunter Cattoor. Mission accomplished for the Blue Devils on both fronts.
"Well I think (Duke head coach) Jon (Scheyer) said 'you know what, somebody else is going to beat the Blue Devils tonight', and we didn't have that person," Young said. "They did a good job with him. Proctor and Roach matched with him some, they did a really good job with him."
With the loss, the Hokies are now 1-9 on the road. While losing in Cameron Indoor Stadium against a good Duke team that is now 15-0 at home isn't something to say you have a problem on its own, the summation of losses is problematic. it's also of great frustration and disappointment to Mike Young.
"I don't know the answer to that. That's not good obviously. You got to be able to go on the road and win, you have to be able to do it in any league. We have certainly had our struggles and that will be a burden on me as we move along," Young said. "Not good enough Tim, not good enough."
Tech still has one more road game against one of the worst all-time ACC teams in 2022-23 Louisville before finishing off against a below .500 Florida State that's showing signs of life after an upset over Miami. If Tech isn't careful and doesn't take care of business this week, they could easily fall onto the NIT bubble going into Greensboro where regardless, they have to win the ACC Tournament to make March Madness.
That's not a place that anyone imagined this Tech team would be especially after the 11-1 start they had this season that feels very distant now.