Changes to the starting lineup. A team ban on social media. A bus ride to Blacksburg.
Duke made lots of changes coming into its game at Virginia Tech on Thursday night, and the No. 7 Blue Devils put together one of their more complete performances of the season in a 75-60 victory.
”Once we get going and our offense gets going and our defense plays at the same level as our offense, we’re a good team,” said Ryan Kelly, who scored 15 points.
Austin Rivers led the Blue Devils with 18 points and added five assists and five rebounds, and the Blue Devils used a 13-2 burst late in the first half to open a double-digit lead they never relinquished.
”Everybody’s so unselfish now and it makes everything fun,” Rivers said.
Two hard practices before the trip to Cassell Coliseum helped Duke find its focus and maintain it throughout. Kelly said the move away from social media was a team decision, and coach Mike Krzyzewski said it’s a mature one that could pay dividends.
”They just decided that instead of a Twitter family or whatever, it’s better to concentrate on our family,” he said. ”It’s for the next couple of months and then they’ll have a lot to tweet about.
”Hopefully they will.”
Krzyzewski made two changes to the starting lineup, removing Seth Curry and Kelly in favor of Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton — a move mostly inspired by defensive play.
But Kelly still had a huge impact, and in a key spot.
He had seven points in the 13-2 spurt that helped the Blue Devils (19-3, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) pull away. Rivers hit a three-pointer and Kelly scored the last five in a 10-0 burst in the second half when Duke extended its lead to 62-40 with 11:19 remaining.
Curry added 11 points and Mason Plumlee had 10 for Duke.
The loss was the seventh in eight games for Virginia Tech (12-10, 1-6) and left coach Seth Greenberg hoarse and disappointed with how his team handled adversity.
”We had some guys miss some shots and that affected their ability to do anything on the other end, and you can’t have that and beat a good team,” he said. ”We did some good things, but when they kind of bowed their neck, I thought we melted.”
Five of the previous losses were by four points or fewer, but the Blue Devils left nothing to chance in avenging a 64-60 setback at Cassell Coliseum last February.
Erick Green led Virginia Tech with 17 points, while Victory Davila tied his career high with 16.
The game was tied 21-21 when Duke started pounding it inside and scored 13 of the next 15 points. Rivers began the run with a putback, and Kelly scored on a dunk and then a drive. After Green hit a pair of free throws for Virginia Tech, Quinn Cook scored on a drive, Kelly swished a three-pointer from the top of the key and Andre Dawkins scored inside for the Blue Devils, making it 34-23.
After a putback by Davila, Plumlee made two free throws and the 6-foot Cook scored on a hook to make it 38-25.
Green’s three that just beat the first-half buzzer pulled the Hokies within 10, but they got no closer.
Just to be sure, the Blue Devils put it away with a run Rivers started with a three-pointer, his third of four in the game. Plumlee added two free throws, Kelly scored on a spin move when he banked the ball in as he appeared to be falling down, then followed that with a three.
The ending was a stark contrast from last season when the Hokies’ home victory brought fans storming onto the court to celebrate a victory many thought assured their first NCAA tournament berth in four years. But the Hokies lost their last two games of the regular season, won twice in the ACC tournament, then lost to the Blue Devils in the semifinals and were again relegated to the NIT.