Sulaimon's pressure defense keys Duke's victory over Virginia Tech

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Duke's Mike Krzyzewski says Hokies' Devin Wilson handled pressure well

DURHAM, N.C. — Duke recently completed one of the most taxing stretches in ACC basketball history. The unknown was, how would the sixth-ranked Blue Devils respond to some actual R&R and Tuesday's home game against an overmatched opponent?

Not to dismiss Virginia Tech's recent improvement. The Hokies are playing better and wiser, though most often not with their desired results.

But Tuesday did not approach the gauntlet Duke concluded with Saturday's home conquest of then-No. 1 Syracuse. Four games in eight days are hardly unique, but the scope of the four was remarkable.

If the Blue Devils were spent, physically and/or emotionally, they masked it well early. Pressuring the Hokies baseline-to-baseline, they jetted to an early 20-point lead and coasted to a 66-48 victory.

Why not a serious landslide to send scribes scrambling for the record books?

Duke (23-6, 12-4 ACC) could not sustain its early pace, while Tech (9-18, 2-13) never conceded.

"We started out so great," Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said, "but then we didn't get the push from the bench. … One thing about their team, especially in the last four games, those kids haven't given up (even) with all the injuries they've had."

The Hokies once again were without injured guards Adam Smith and Ben Emelogu, and ailing forward Cadarian Raines made a one-minute cameo. Smith and Emelogu were especially missed as Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon harassed Devin Wilson, Tech's freshman point guard, into six turnovers and 3-of-11 shooting.

It was among the few times this season Wilson appeared skittish. But to his credit, only two of the giveaways occurred after halftime.

Hokies coach James Johnson called Sulaimon's defense "the difference in the game. … It affected Devin on both ends of the floor. … He wasn't able to play with the intensity on defense. He was just so tired and worn down. But I thought Rasheed did a very good job. He's long, he's big, and that affected Devin all night long getting into our offense."

While Wilson was shellshocked to start, Sulaimon and backcourt partner Tyler Thornton were models of efficiency, combining for 12 assists and nary a turnover.

"One of the reasons we're playing better is Rasheed's pressure on the ball," Krzyzewski said. "He's also 6-3, 6-4, he's quick and he wants to play defense. … I thought as a freshman (Wilson) handled things pretty well. … He started out, and it was tough. No port in a storm, so to speak. He's going to be a really good player, because he's a tough kid and they'll have more weapons with him."

Tech's best weapon Tuesday was freshman forward Trevor Thompson with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting, by far his finest performance in conference play. But even with Duke shooting 38.7 percent, and even when the Hokies clawed within seven during the second half, the result never was in doubt.

Indeed, the Devils could get basically any shot they wanted against Tech's zone, especially with Rodney Hood (game-high 21 points) flashing to the high post. It was just a matter of how many would fall.

Duke's 32nd consecutive home victory closed a five-games-in-11-days stretch. But the most telling comprehensive test was the four-in-eight that preceded Tuesday.

First the Blue Devils hosted Maryland for the final time as ACC rivals, a maximum-energy game that the Terps honored with an overachieving performance that darn near produced victory at the buzzer. Duke then headed to Georgia Tech, an alleged breather, but a road challenge nonetheless.

Two days later, the Devils played at North Carolina. Enough said there.

Only then, with less than 48 hours in between, could Duke prepare for Syracuse and the rematch of their Carrier Dome classic.

Given the stylistic and emotional ranges required, it was like asking an actor to star in Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, Othello and Much Ado About Nothing in about a week.

That Duke stumbled only at North Carolina was testimony to not only talent but also mettle. The Devils do not play again until a week from Wednesday, at Wake Forest, before concluding the regular season at home against North Carolina.

"We need to review our stuff instead of always planning for someone else's stuff," Krzyzewski said.

He then summoned the ultimate domestic analogy in describing Tuesday's game.

"Kind of like, I don't know if you do this, getting that last bit of toothpaste out."

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

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