DURHAM – After 11 long days, Duke had to call up one final push.
Playing for the fifth time in 11 days, which included battles against North Carolina, Syracuse and Maryland, Duke saw a big, first-half lead shrink against last-place Virginia Tech, and it needed one final spell of good basketball before a week-long break.
After a few threes and tight defense, Duke can rest easy. The Blue Devils held on to beat the Hokies, 66-48, on Tuesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“(Tuesday) was kind of like – I don’t know if you do this – getting that last little bit of toothpaste out of (the tube),” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Even though you have two whole containers, you’re going to get that last little bit.”
In spite of the schedule, No. 6 Duke (23-6, 12-4) did not look fatigued to begin the game. The Blue Devils’ defense dominated most of the game, which made scoring difficult for Virginia Tech (9-18, 2-13).
The Hokies made two field goals in the first 12 minutes of the game and went more than seven minutes without a field goal during one stretch in the first half.
After Rasheed Sulaimon hit a three-pointer with just less than 10 minutes remaining the half, Duke led by 20 and looked poised to cruise to its 32nd straight win at Cameron.
“I think we helped each other out during the first half when we gained the momentum,” Duke freshman Jabari Parker said. “It also put pressure on the offensive end, and we got them uncomfortable. I think we put ourselves in a good position.”
Virginia Tech, which had looked helpless, suddenly awoke. The Hokies cut the lead to 12 by halftime. A quick 5-0 run at the beginning of the second half brought them within seven, forcing Duke to take a timeout.
Coming into Tuesday’s game, Virginia Tech was the lowest-ranked power-conference team in terms of RPI. The Hokes have lost 13 of 14 games and have won just once in 2014.
“At this level, you know, everybody is good, no matter what their record says,” Sulaimon said. “We just had to stay consistent and keep the pressure on them.”
Out of the timeout, Sulaimon hit a three, one of 10 Duke triples in the game. After a Virginia Tech lay-up, Rodney Hood made a jumper, then Sulaimon hit another three for an 8-2 run that pushed the lead back to 13.
Six minutes later, Duke started a 6-0 run that all but sealed the game.
Hood led Duke with 21 points on 9-for-17 shooting, though he said the upcoming break was his biggest reward for the game.
“It’s much needed. Five games in 11 days, it’s tough on us,” Hood said. “We’re a little winded and tired, but it’s good to get rejuvenated. We got two games left in the ACC, so we gotta get rejuvenated and get ready for March.”
Sulaimon scored 15 points for the Blue Devils, though Krzyzewski lauded his defense on Virginia Tech point guard Devin Wilson, who finished with six turnovers.
Parker had his eighth double-double in the past 11 games with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Trevor Thompson led Virginia Tech with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting.
Krzyzewski said he was excited for his team to have a short period of rest to re-focus on itself, as opposed to preparing constantly for opponents.
His players were happy to have come through the five-game stretch with a relatively healthy lineup, and more importantly, four wins.
“Human nature maybe wants you to take a break or to act tired,” said Marshall Plumlee, who had four points and six rebounds off the bench. “We’ve got to show toughness to fight through fatigue, whether it be mental or physical, and I think we did that (Tuesday.)”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com