It was about a month ago, but so much has changed for Virginia Tech and Duke.
Virginia Tech wouldn’t mind a similar result when the teams meet in the NCAA Tournament’s East Region semifinal Friday night at Capital One Arena in Washington D.C.
“Difficult to articulate how you feel, but to be able to continue to have a chance to play is an unbelievable feeling in the last week of March, for sure,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said.
The teams previously met in the second-to-last week of the regular season, with Virginia Tech winning 77-72 on Feb. 26 in Blacksburg, Va.
That game was absent Duke freshman forward Zion Williamson, who was later named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, and Virginia Tech senior guard Justin Robinson.
Both players have returned to action.
Williamson came up with 32 points in Sunday’s 77-76 escape victory against Central Florida in the second round.
“With or without (Williamson) they got five really good guys on the floor,” Virginia Tech forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. said “And we got J-Rob back, so that does so much for our team. We’re excited to have an opportunity to play them again, especially on a neutral site in Washington, D.C., and it’s Sweet 16. So opportunity to get to the Elite Eight.”
Duke (31-5), the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, scored seven of the final nine points to pull out the second-round victory in Columbia, S.C.
“These kids, they have it,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They have it. Hopefully, we can continue to advance, but I love who they are and I have confidence in the team.”
The Hokies, who are seeded fourth in the East Region, are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1962.
Duke is at this stage of the season for the 27th time — the second-most all-time behind North Carolina’s 29. Twenty-five of Duke’s Sweet 16 qualifications have come under Krzyzewski.
Robinson’s return a boost
Virginia Tech produced a 67-58 second-round victory against Liberty in a game in San Jose, Calif. Now the Hokies are back closer to home.
“I think it’s different emotions for every other player,” Virginia Tech’s Ahmed Hill said of reaching the Sweet 16. “My emotions was I’m just excited to be able to play again with these guys.”
The return of Robinson to the lineup has been a boost. He missed more time than Williamson, finally returning for the NCAA Tournament. Robinson logged 29 minutes in that game.
“To miss 12 games as the all-time leader in assists (for the program), and there was never any assurance that he was going to be able to play again,” Williams said. “Obviously we were all hoping that, but he hasn’t played since January. And for him to be able to come back on this stage.”
Duke is still in the tournament in part because of freshman forward RJ Barrett’s go-ahead basket off Williamson’s missed free throw.
“I was just thinking, what can I do to win this game?” Barrett said. “I remember watching March Madness and watching a whole bunch of games and seeing missed free throws, somebody gets a rebound and a putback.”
This Virginia Tech-Duke game marks the ninth time that two Atlantic Coast Conference teams will meet in an NCAA Tournament game. For Duke, it also happened last year in the Sweet 16, with the Blue Devils defeating Syracuse in that matchup.
Duke has played two NCAA Tournament games without reserve forward Jack White, who has a hamstring ailment. The Blue Devils used only seven players in the Central Florida game.
–Field Level Media