DURHAM — Before Duke's players left the locker room at halftime Sunday night, assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski urged them to remember their identity.
Duke's coaches see defense and rebounding as the team's cornerstones this season. That remained true in a key ACC game against Virginia Tech at Cameron Indoor Stadium as sixth-ranked Duke won 67-55.
Under nonstop halfcourt pressure from the Blue Devils, Virginia Tech shot 32.8 percent from the field, missed 13 of 15 3-point attempts and had just four assists.
Hokies point guard Malcolm Delaney, the ACC scoring leader, came up just one point short of his season scoring average with 19 points. But he shot just 5-for-19 from the field and had more turnovers (four) than assists (three).
"If we're going to let them live off a consistent diet of tough shots and contested shots, then that's all we can do against a scorer like that," Duke forward Lance Thomas said.
Duke also outrebounded Virginia Tech 47-38, thanks largely to center Brian Zoubek (16 rebounds) and forward Kyle Singler (10). But this game also was an extreme illustration of another part of Duke's identity that isn't all good.
Singler (25 points), Nolan Smith (23) and Jon Scheyer (15) combined for all but four of Duke's points and 17 of the Blue Devils' 18 field goals. Thomas, who played 30 minutes and did not score, said Duke can win even with the three leading scorers contributing the overwhelming majority of the points.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski admitted that he would like other players to score more but sounded accepting of that part of Duke's identity, too.
"Those three players are really good," Krzyzewski said, "so as long as they keep going well, you have to go with what you've got."
What they've got still has the Blue Devils (23-4, 11-2 ACC) ahead in the ACC standings. Virginia Tech (21-5, 8-4), which entered the weekend tied for second place, fell a game behind Maryland (19-7, 9-3), which claimed a last-second win over Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Despite trailing by 11 points in the first half, the Hokies used some stifling defense of their own to lead 45-44 after a high-arcing Delaney 3-pointer with 9 minutes, 55 seconds remaining.
Duke shot 29 percent (18-for-62) from the field for the game and missed 11 of its 12 two-point attempts in the first half.
"We got good looks," Scheyer said. "I had a couple pull-ups that were just wide open and some finishes we should usually finish. I thought we got good shots."
But after the Hokies took the lead, Duke made four of its next five field goal attempts. Smith scored seven points in 3:30, Zoubek added a three-point play, and Singler swished a 3-point shot from in front of the Duke bench.
Smith then held the ball, milked the clock and passed to Scheyer on the wing for an open 3-pointer that he sank for a 60-49 advantage with 4:11 remaining.
"We had the game at the ugly quotient," Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "We just couldn't finish it."
After Scheyer's 3-pointer, Smith did a dance at midcourt and pointed to Scheyer, who came over to give Smith a leaping chest bump as a timeout was called. But in their joy over the shots finally falling - Duke added 3-pointers by Smith and Singler in the final minute - the Blue Devils didn't forget who they were.
"At times this year our offense hasn't been there, whether we're not shooting the ball well or we're out of sync," Scheyer said. "That's why defense is so important, and the one thing is, we know that about ourselves and we make sure our defense is there every night."
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