WASHINGTON – Duke and Virginia Tech — two ACC powers, one for decades and one only more recently – traded baskets, alternated leads and matched big shot for big shot in a Sweet 16 matchup.
And when the final horn sounded after 40 minutes of high-level basketball that included nine ties and nine lead changes, top-seeded Duke escaped with a 75-73 victory against fourth-seeded Virginia Tech on Friday.
Virginia missed two shots in the final 5.8 seconds that could have tied the score or won the game – Ty Outlaw’s three-pointer fell short and Ahmed Hill missed a short catch-and-shoot at the rim off an inbound play as time expired. It was the second consecutive game where a team took Duke to the wire. Last week, Central Florida missed a tipped at the buzzer that would’ve upset Duke.
“Justin threw a great pass and I just came up short,” Hill said. “And that was about it. I wasn’t worried about anything. I just tried to get my eyes locked on the rim and it just
bounced to the left.”
Short-handed Duke – freshman Cam Reddish missed the game with a leg injury – needed every bit from its other freshmen stars.
Tre Jones had one of the best shooting games of his season, Zion Williamson displayed his power game with his standard yet electrifying array of high-flying dunks, and R.J. Barrett showed off his smooth scoring skills near the basket.
“What a game,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Huge, great game. And we beat an outstanding team that I thought they played great.”
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Duke advances to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive season and will play second-seeded Michigan State Sunday with a spot in the Final Four on the line. Neither school has reached the Final Four since 2015 when the Blue Devils defeated the Spartans in the semifinals and then beat Wisconsin for the national championship.
Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is 1-11 against Krzyzewski with his lone win coming in a 2005 Sweet 16 game. Coach K will be aiming for his a record 13th Final Four appearance. He is currently tied with former UCLA coach John Wooden.
In maybe a sigh of relief, the Blue Devils didn’t need Williamson to dominate. But make no mistake, he left his imprint on the game. He had 23 points on 11-for-14 shooting, six rebounds and three blocks
In a key sequence late in the second half and the Hokies trailing 64-61, Williamson blocked a shot and Jones converted a short jumper, extending Duke’s lead to 66-61 with 5:29 left.
When Virginia Tech followed with a three-pointer by Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Williamson countered with a powerful layup. When Virginia Tech later cut the lead to 68-66, Jones made a three-pointer and Williamson threw down another dunk, making it 73-66 with 2:53 to go.
Without Reddish, who was expected to start until tipoff, Jones stepped up with his best three-point shooting of the season.
“So that’s another thing for our guys to be able to overcome, that adversity because we’ve prepared all week with that lineup,” Krzyzewski said. “And then, boom, right before the start of the game he can’t play.”
Three-pointers figured to play a role in the outcome. Virginia Tech finished as the one of the best long-distance teams in the ACC and Duke was last in the conference in three-point shooting.
Duke was just 30 percent from long range, but Jones made 5-for-7 threes and scored a career-high 22 points. He also added eight assists.
“These guys believed in me all year, especially after last game with me struggling from three,” Jones said. “They kept believing in me. Coach kept telling me to take the shots and these guys kept telling me take my shots, and they were able to fall tonight.”
Barrett struggled from three-point range, going 0-for-7, but he was 7-for-10 inside in the arc, scoring 18 points and delivering 11 assists.