No. 19 Duke aims to continue improvement vs. No. 20 Hokies

NCAA Men's Basketball

No. 19 Duke has found a groove and No. 20 Virginia Tech has found its way among the top teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference a few games into the conference portions of their respective schedules.

It’s a matter of gaining some continuity that might help Duke, with its next game coming with Tuesday night’s visit to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. After a substantial layoff, the Blue Devils played twice last week and won both times at home.

“I think the longer we play together, we’re more instinctive defensively than we are offensively,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Especially the freshmen … Jeremy (Roach), DJ (Steward) … these guys on the perimeter, they’re past the thinking stage. They’re more instinctive. They’ve learned the defense well enough and that’s the bridge you have to cross when you’re learning something.”

Duke (5-2, 3-0 ACC) showed some of that by making 10 steals — its second consecutive game with double-digit steals — in Saturday’s 79-68 victory against Wake Forest. The Blue Devils also produced a 10-rebound edge.

Virginia Tech (9-2, 3-1) owned the boards in Sunday night’s 77-63 conquest of visiting Notre Dame. The Hokies held a 41-24 rebounding advantage in that game.

The Hokies have received boosts from Justyn Mutts and Keve Aluma in the lane.

“I don’t think we walk out of this game with a win without our frontcourt playing the way they played,” Virginia Tech guard Jalen Cone said after the most-recent outing.

The Hokies will need those types of contributions if they remain without a full roster. Coach Mike Young said forward Cordell Pemsl, who missed the Notre Dame game with a back ailment and might not be ready to return to action.

“His back is all jacked up,” Young said. “… I doubt seriously that he plays on Tuesday.”

Duke forward Matthew Hurt has put up some strong offensive numbers, including a career-best 26 points for the sophomore Saturday.

“We’ve been really working hard on our offense, whether it’s sets, whether it’s actions, whether it’s moving off the ball, just playing free,” Hurt said. “I think just doing that every day, the coaches are doing a great job of keeping that on our mind.”

Duke is 18-5 when Hurt scores in double figures in his career. He’s averaging an ACC-best 19.6 points per game this season.

Cone, a sophomore, scored a career-best 23 points in a two-point loss at Louisville and followed that with 18 points against Notre Dame. He’s averaging 17.8 points across the past five games.

Steward, a freshman, played a season-high 39 minutes Saturday. Krzyzewski said molding more depth could be important.

“We have to keep developing a bench,” Krzyzewski said. “I know Henry (Coleman III) only played a few seconds but he got a big charge.”

The Blue Devils are happy to have Krzyzewski back with the team after he missed last week’s victory against Boston College because he was in quarantine based on coronavirus protocols (close contact with a family member who tested positive).

“He just brought the energy, and we needed that energy, so just going forward, it’s going to be good having him back,” Steward said of his coach.

This will be the first of three consecutive road games for Duke.

–Field Level Media

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