On the weekly ACC coaches teleconference, the first question for Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski was predictable: What are the challenges of facing Erick Green?
“He’s a scoring machine,” Krzyzewski said. “He can break you down, hit open – he can knock down the 3, but he can also get to the foul line. He’s just a terrific player. He’s one of the best players in the country.”
Green, a 6-3 senior point guard for Virginia Tech, leads the nation at 25.3 points per game. Opponents know Green is the only reliable scoring threat for the last-place Hokies (11-14, 2-10 in the ACC), but no one has been able to stop him.
That’s the task facing No. 6 Duke (22-3, 9-3) at 9 p.m. Thursday in Blacksburg, Va. Green is ready for the challenge.
“This is every kid’s dream, playing Duke, national TV, primetime in front of the whole world,” he said. “This is a big moment.”
Only North Carolina has held Green to fewer than 20 points in conference play, and just one other team, BYU, has held him under that mark all year. Last time out against N.C. State, Green scored 29 points and also recorded eight assists in the Hokies’ 90-86 overtime loss. And that was with Lorenzo Brown, with some help from Rodney Purvis, on him.
“For him to do what he’s been doing,” Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said, “and shooting the percentage he shoots from the floor, (47) percent from the floor and (38) percent from 3, with the defenses keying in on him every single game with two, sometimes three guys, it’s just amazing what he’s been able to do.”
Green entered the N.C. State game in somewhat of a shooting slump. He had made 30 of his previous 81 shots (37 percent) before going 11-of-24 against the Pack.
The trouble started at North Carolina. The Tar Heels rotated four guards on Green – Dexter Strickland, Marcus Paige, Leslie McDonald and Reggie Bullock – and he had his most unproductive game of the conference season, shooting 7-of-21 for 16 points.
Look for Duke to use a similar strategy, using a combination of Rasheed Sulaimon, Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton on him.
Green, who also leads the Hokies’ with an average of 4.1 assists per game, has carried the team to the point of exhaustion. Against Georgia Tech, he was helped off the court (after recording 28 points, five rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two turnovers and one steal) and treated for dehydration.
Only one other Virginia Tech player, Jarell Eddie (13.0), averages more than nine points per game, and he didn’t start against State because he hadn’t been living up to his coach’s expectations. That leaves the Hokies with Green…and not much else.
So how does Duke stop Green, the scoring machine that can drive, convert and the foul line and hit the 3?
“You’ve got to just hope that you don’t let him score on in all three of those ways,” Krzyzewski said. “If you can take one of those things away, either keep him off the foul line or not let him get as many 3s and hold him down a little bit, but he’s going to score the ball.”
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley