Clearing a Hokie hurdle hasn’t been easy for No. 1 Duke

Coach K on Duke’s loss at Virginia Tech

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski discusses the Blue Devils' 77-72 loss at Virginia Tech on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.
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Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski discusses the Blue Devils' 77-72 loss at Virginia Tech on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.

Duke has played its next NCAA tournament opponent 56 times, posting 47 wins in a series that dates back to 1912.

Since that school, Virginia Tech, joined the ACC in 2004, the Blue Devils have 17 wins over the Hokies against six defeats.

But don’t think for a minute the No. 1 Blue Devils have an easy road when they arrive in Washington, D.C., for Friday’s East Region semifinal game with Virginia Tech.

The Hokies are one of five teams to beat the Blue Devils this season, toppling them 77-72 on Feb. 26 in Blacksburg, Va.

That’s one of three wins Virginia Tech has over Duke during the last three seasons as coach Buzz Williams has elevated the Hokies’ program in the ACC hierarchy and made it nationally relevant.

“We’ve beaten them three out of my four years,” Virginia Tech guard Justin Robinson told reporters in San Jose, Calif., Sunday night after the fourth-seeded Hokies advanced to meet Duke with a 67-58 win over 12th-seeded Liberty. “We’re not going to be star-struck or scared or any of that. We’re just going to battle, make it a fight and play how we know how to play and be the best version of ourselves.”

Not that long ago, the Blue Devils held a distinct advantage over Virginia Tech. Duke won 13 of 14 games in the series, including nine in a row starting with a 77-63 ACC tournament win in 2011 through an 82-58 thumping of the Hokies at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 9, 2016.

Things have changed since then.

Virginia Tech guard Wabissa Bede (3) starts a fast break near Duke forward RG Barrett during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Blacksburg, Va., Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. Lee Luther Jr. AP

The Hokies broke that losing streak to Duke on Dec. 31, 2016, a game at Blacksburg that represented the totality of Grayson Allen’s indefinite suspension for tripping Elon’s Steven Santa Ana a couple of weeks earlier. The Hokies posted an 89-75 win.

The following season, Duke had Allen but not an injured Marvin Bagley III when it beat the Hokies 74-52 at Cameron on Feb. 14, 2018.

But 12 days later on Feb. 26 at Blacksburg, Duke had Bagley and Allen but still lost 64-63.

In their most recent meeting, Duke was without ACC player of the year Zion Williamson due to a sprained knee. A foot injury kept Robinson sidelined for the Hokies, who pulled away in the final two minutes for the five-point win.

Robinson injured his foot and was sidelined in January. He didn’t play the rest of the regular season and also sat out the ACC tournament. Virginia Tech (26-8, 12-6 ACC) kept playing at a high level anyway.

Both Williamson and Robinson have returned for the NCAA tournament, setting up a meeting between the two ACC clubs with a trip to the East Region finals on the line.

“He’s a really great player,” Virginia Tech senior forward Kerry Blackshear said of Williamson. “They’re a really great team. With or without him they got five really good guys on the floor. 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.”

While Duke (31-5, 14-4) has reached the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in the last five years, this is the first time since 1967 Virginia Tech has advanced this far.

A reporter in San Jose, Calif., where Virginia Tech beat Liberty on Sunday, asked Hokies forward Ahmed Hill how excited he was, on a scale of 1-100, to be in the Sweet 16.

“Five hundred,” Hill said.

An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.