Virginia Tech adds to NCAA Tournament resume
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s emotions changed in a heartbeat — not once, but twice.
The freshman guard at Virginia Tech took what he thought would be the game-winning shot. Then he saw it sail over the rim entirely. Then he saw teammate Chris Clarke collect the rebound and lay it back in, giving the Hokies a stunning 64-63 comeback victory over No. 5 Duke.
“It was in the air, I was like, ‘Oh my God. I’m about to hit it,’” Alexander-Walker said. Then? “Oooooh, and then, yeah!”
Clarke’s mind was working overtime, too, as he grabbed the rebound.
“Definitely you can’t miss that layup or it looks really bad,” he said of the putback with 4 seconds left, which gave Virginia Tech its first lead since the opening minutes. “I wouldn’t say nerve-wracking. I just knew I had to make it.”
Because he did, the Hokies gained another signature victory to enhance their NCAA Tournament credentials. Clarke said they haven’t talked about that as a team, even with pundits seeming very much on the fence as to whether they have done enough or not.
“We know we’re not done yet,” Clarke said. “But we know it’s a booster.”
The Hokies (21-9, 10-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) also have home wins against No. 9 North Carolina and No. 18 Clemson, and a road victory at top-ranked Virginia. They got this one by holding Duke without a field goal for the final seven minutes of the game, snapping the Blue Devils’ five-game winning streak.
“I thought we played really tired tonight,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, noting that it was his team’s fourth game in eight days.
The Blue Devils committed 18 turnovers, and the Hokies turned them into 24 points. Duke turned 12 Tech miscues into just six points.
“Part of it for us was to make them a half-court team, and we did unless we turned it over,” Krzyzewski said.
Alexander-Walker led the Hokies with 17 points, Justin Bibbs had 14 on his Senior Night and Kerry Blackshear Jr. added 13.
Grayson Allen led Duke (24-6, 12-5) with 22 points, but his 3-point try before the buzzer missed. Wendell Carter Jr. grabbed the rebound, but the clock ran out before his layup went through.
When officials signaled that the basket didn’t count, fans streamed out of the stands onto the Cassell Coliseum floor.
The Blue Devils used an early 19-3 run to quiet the crowd and open a 29-14 lead, but the Hokies almost immediately responded by scoring 11 straight points, with Alexander-Walker getting the first seven and Bibbs the last four. The Blue Devils’ lead was 33-27 at halftime.
Alexander-Walker joked afterward that his attempt at a game-winning shot was really a pass.
“A lot of people didn’t think it was a pass, but I lobbed it up perfectly,” he said.
He had no assists in the game.
POKING THE BEAR
Hokies fans lustily booed Grayson Allen every time he touched the ball and engaged in a few derisive chants early, and Duke’s lightning-rod senior responded by scoring 11 points in the opening seven minutes of the first half. He scored 11 more in the second half, too.
Allen came in averaging 20.2 points, five assists and 2.4 steals during Duke’s five-game winning streak.
Duke: The Blue Devils failed to extend their school-record string of games holding an ACC opponent under 60 points to five, but they weren’t far off. They were without Bagley of the first three games of the streak. The Hokies reached 60 points on Chris Clarke’s dunk with 1:26 remaining. In Bagley’s return against Syracuse, the Orange managed just 44 points.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies didn’t get their usual production from Justin Robinson and continued to get almost nothing from Ahmed Hill, who’s still averaging 11.6 points despite not having scored more than nine in more than a month. Alexander-Walker helped fill the void, and Clarke scored six of his eight in the final 1:26.
Duke hosts No. 9 North Carolina in its regular-season finale on Saturday night.
Virginia Tech travels to Miami for its regular-season finale on Saturday.
By Hank Kurz Jr. of the Associated Press