With Zion Williamson nursing a sprained knee and sitting on the bench in street clothes for a game against VaTech, #3 Duke lost for the second time in the last three games since Williamson unexpectedly went down with a sneaker blowout against North Carolina last week.
Duke’s other super-frosh, RJ Barrett, shrugged off a slow start to finish with 21 points. Cam Reddish added 17 points, but #20 Virginia Tech won 77-72. Once again, Duke looked a little lost at times without Williamson in the lineup.
“We’re used to having Zion down there,” said Duke freshman Cam Reddish. “He gives us everything we need. We’re trying to adjust to not having him, and day by day we’re getting there. Hopefully, we’ll have him back soon.”
VaTech played the game without starting point guard Justin Robinson. He’s missed the last eight games with a wrist injury, but the rest of the Hokies stepped up and rallied for a huge win against hated Duke.
Kerry Blackshear, a 6-foot-10 junior, only averages 14.9 points this season. Since Robinson went down, he scored 21 or more points in five games, including four straight. He finished the Duke game with 23 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
Senior guard Ahmed Hill also stepped up with 17 points. Backup Ty Outlaw, another senior guard, scored 11 points including a clutch three-pointer late in the game to seal the victory for Virginia Tech.
What About VaTech Mr. Robinson?
With all eyes focused on Zion missing another game, most of the media buried the real story. Virginia Tech was also missing the heart of soul of their team. Justin Robinson, 6-foot-2 senior from Manassas, Virginia, went down at the end of January when he left the Miami game with a wrist injury.
Robinson averaged 14.4 points per game for VaTech. As expected, he led the teams in assists. But he is one of the team’s better three-point shooters and the best free throw shooter.
Robinson missed every game in February, but the Hokies went 5-3 without their floor general. In their first game without Robinson, the Hokies beat NC State in one of the ugliest games in recent memory. They final score was 47-24. That is not a typo. Both teams missed a combined 75 shots. NC State could only put up 24 points in two halves. VA Tech’s defense held NC State to only 16.7 percent shooting including 7.1 percent from three-point range. No one on NC State scored double digits.
Two of Virginia Tech’s losses occurred against ranked teams. VaTech lost to #16 Louisville by eight points and then dropped the next game to Clemson. Since then they are 4-1 with a sole loss against #3 Virginia last week.
Coming into the game against Virginia Tech, Duke had yet to lose a true road game this season. Gonzaga beat Duke in November to win the Maui Invitational. However, that annual tournament game was held on a neutral court in Hawaii.
Two of the other Duke losses happened at home during ACC play. Syracuse upset Duke during in an OT thriller at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Last week, North Carolina took a short trip to Durham to pummel the Blue Devils after Zion Williamson got hurt in the opening minute of the game.
The defeat against Virginia Tech marked the first road loss in the ACC as well. Virginia Tech has Duke’s number at home the last three seasons. Buzz Williams’ squad is 3-0 against Duke since 2017.
On Deck: Miami Layup, UNC Looms
Virginia Tech has only two more ACC games this season. They play at FSU (22-6) next week and then close out the regular season with a home game against Miami (12-15). FSU is one of the big surprises this season. They’ve held their own with a 10-5 record against tough ACC opponents. The Seminoles (22-6) also have an identical record as VaTech.
Only three more games for Duke to close out the regular season. They have two each games against losing squads with host Miami this weekend and Wake Forest (11-16) early next week. The highly-anticipated rematch against big-time rival North Carolina takes place on March 5.
Will Zion Play Again?
Zion will most-likely sit out the two easier games and be reevaluated before the UNC/Duke game to determine if he’s ready to go. There has been rampant speculation that Zion will shut it down the rest of the season completely, including the ACC Tournament and March Madness.
It’s obvious to everyone who has watched a Duke game this season that Zion is the best player in the country. He’s expected to become the #1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Knicks have been tanking to put themselves in a spot to draft Zion. Meanwhile, after Zion’s sneaker explosion against UNC that caused his knee injury, the NBA announced they are looking to lower the age requirement from 19 to 18. The NBA said there were already in discussions with the players’ union to kill the one-and-done rule before Zion’s injury.