BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech rallied from a 16-point first-half deficit to tie the game in the second half, but the Hokies couldn’t get over the hump, falling to No. 7 Duke 72-65 in an ACC game played Saturday afternoon at Cassell Coliseum.
The loss marked the Hokies’ third straight to the Blue Devils and Tech’s fourth in the past five games overall. The Hokies fell to 17-11 overall, 7-7 in the ACC. Duke, ranked seventh in the nation in both polls, won for the fourth straight time and improved to 24-5 on the season, 10-4 in the league.
The Hokies, who never led, got off to a horrible start, hitting just two of their first 13 shots, and later in the first half, ended up trailing by 16 – and also by 11 at halftime. But behind the tremendous shooting of A.D. Vassallo, the Hokies came roaring back.
Vassallo, the senior from Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, scored 15 straight points for the Hokies during a span of 5:04 late in the second half and tied the game at 58 when he drained a 3-pointer with 5:58 left in the game.
“We had it,” Vassallo said. “We just needed one more bucket and I think we would have broken them down. I thought if we could get one more bucket and go up two, then I think they would have freaked out because they were in command the whole game. We just couldn’t get it done.”
Tech actually had two cracks to take the lead. But Vassallo received a charging foul on a drive with 5:08 left and then J.T. Thompson missed a lay-up on the Hokies’ ensuing possession. Lewis Witcher fouled Duke’s Kyle Singler trying to rebound Thompson’s miss and Singler drained both with 4:25 remaining to give Duke the lead for good.
Duke expanded the lead to four on two free throws by Gerald Henderson with 3:50 left and then to six on a Singler lay-up with 1:23 to go that made it 64-58.
The Hokies cut that lead to three points on three occasions in the final minute – the last coming on two Vassallo free throws with 23.7 seconds left that made the score 68-65. But Jon Scheyer got fouled – the Hokies desperately wanted a traveling call on the play – and made two free throws with 14.2 ticks to go, and Singler added two more with 4.7 left, accounting for the final margin.
“We fought back and got back in the game,” Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. “We were in position to win the game. Unfortunately we didn’t make the plays you need to make. It’s a very small margin [between winning and losing].
“I thought our guys played hard and competed at a high level. They’re a very, very good team, but we’re a good team.”
Vassallo finished with a double-double, scoring 26 points and grabbing 10 rebounds – his first of the season and the fifth of his career. He hit 10-of-17 from the floor, including 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. It marked the sixth time in the past eight games that the senior has scored at least 20 points.
Thompson and Jeff Allen each added 13 points. Thompson played 30minutes off the bench and hit 6-of-9 from the floor. He also grabbed seven rebounds.
Malcolm Delaney scored just seven points, hitting only 2-of-12 from the floor. He saw his string of scoring in double figures snapped at 32 consecutive games. Delaney did dish out eight assists and played 40 minutes because the Hokies were without point guard Hank Thorns, who sat out the game after spending two days in the hospital with a virus.
“I was just off,” Delaney said. “I was getting to the rim whenever I wanted. I only had a few shots that were contested. I just didn’t hit them. I did a lot of stuff where I missed shots because I was trying to avoid charges. I knew I couldn’t get in foul trouble. I think that probably threw some of my shots off because I didn’t want to draw a charge.”
“He didn’t make shots, but he played well,” Greenberg said. “They did a good job on Malcolm, but he also played well. He defended, he distributed, he competed, he got caught on switches and fronted the post, he got caught on switches and defended Henderson … everyone asks ‘What happened to Malcolm?’ Well, he missed some shots, but we asked him to do a lot and I’m proud of him.”
Duke got 21 points from both Singler and Henderson. After picking up two fouls in the first half and spending a lot of time on the bench, Singler scored 19 of his 21 in the second half for the Blue Devils, who shot 42.4 percent from the floor for the game, but just 31 percent in the second half.
Tech shot 41.1 percent from the floor, including 45.2 in the final 20 minutes. But the Hokies were hurt by 19 turnovers – their most in an ACC game this season.
Tech remains at home for its next game, but the competition only gets tougher. The Hokies will face top-five North Carolina on Wednesday night at Cassell Coliseum. Tip off for the game is slated for 7 p.m.
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