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January 6, 2007

Hokies hang a loss on Duke

Duke and Virginia Tech played a second straight thrilling game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but this time the Hokies came away on top, earning a 69-67 overtime victory to hand the Blue Devils their first ACC opening loss in 11 years.

All of Duke's early season problems that seemed to be fading away came back today. The Blue Devils turned the ball over a season high 22 times and point guard Greg Paulus had arguably his worst performance in his Duke career.

Even with a very sloppy offensive effort for much of the game, Duke had chances to claim a 10th straight victory thanks in large part to a huge performance by DeMarcus Nelson.

For a significant part of Saturday's game, Nelson was about the only positive aspect of Duke's offense. The junior finished the game with 22 points despite fighting foul trouble for most of the second half.

Trailing 64-61 with less than 20 seconds to play, Nelson dribbled around a high screen at the top of the key and nailed a pull-up three pointer to tie the score.

Following that play, Virginia Tech could only put up a desperation shot that missed, sending Duke's ACC opener to overtime.

After a difficult first half, Josh McRoberts recovered to have a strong second half, and the sophomore forward put Duke on top with a quick basket in overtime, but the Blue Devil offense went quiet again down the stretch.

The Hokies grabbed the lead for good when Jamon Gordon penetrated the lane and hit a mid-range jumper with 30 seconds left to put Virginia Tech up 68-67.

Duke had two more looks at the basket in the final moments, but David McClure misfired from 16 feet, and following a free throw by the Hokies, Greg Paulus had his desperation three point attempt rejected by Deron Washington.

The final sequence was rather appropriate considering the forgettable day Paulus had.

The sophomore point guard finished the day with six turnovers and only one assist, and on the final play of the game, he was essentially caught napping when McRoberts fired an outlet pass to him and the ball hit Paulus right in the face, costing Duke precious seconds as the Devils needed to push the ball frantically down the court.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski went away from Paulus for much of the game, partly due to early foul troubles and partly due to poor play.

Paulus played only 18 minutes and watched Jon Scheyer take a bulk of the ball handling duty while Paulus sat on the bench.

Duke fell behind 8-0 early in the game as the offense opened the game with a flurry of turnovers, and despite fighting back from a 38-33 halftime deficit, the Devils could never get enough consistency on either end of the floor to get over the hump.

Duke's usually terrific defense wasn't awful Saturday, but Virginia Tech's potent guards were effective enough to answer every Duke threat.

Gordon finished the game with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and he had some of the biggest baskets of the game, including his go ahead shot with 30 seconds left in overtime and an earlier shot he hit while falling to the floor near the lane.

Shooting guard Zabian Dowdell was also a thorn in Duke's side.

The Hokies' leading scorer topped the box score again Saturday with 20 points in 41 minutes of action. Virginia Tech went to Dowdell repeatedly down the stretch and he proved to be a difficult one-on-one matchup for the Devils, especially with Nelson on the bench with four fouls for key minutes in the second half.

On the bright side for Duke, Lance Thomas returned to action after suffering a sprained ankle following the Christmas break and played 17 solid minutes, most of them coming in the first half.

Thomas made a splash early in the game but did not have the stamina needed to play many more minutes following his injury.

Freshman Gerald Henderson helped Duke try to overcome all of its struggles. Henderson scored 10 points and played possibly his most assertive game on the offensive end.

In the end though, 22 turnovers were way too many for the Blue Devils to overcome, and the loss was deserved.

Virginia Tech scored 20 points off of Duke's turnovers, while the Devils only forced seven Virginia Tech turnovers and got just four points as a result of them.

The ACC opening loss is the first for Duke since 1995-96, when the Devils lost in overtime at Clemson to open the conference schedule, and proceeded to start the league slate 0-4.


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