No. 20 Virginia Tech knocks off No. 3 Duke as Blue Devil defense struggles without Zion

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Virginia Tech scored an impressive victory over No. 3 Duke on Tuesday night as the No. 20 Hokies held off a late charge for a 77-72 ACC home win. The win for Virginia Tech is a massive one for its NCAA tournament profile while the loss for the Blue Devils means they’re no longer tied with Virginia and North Carolina atop the ACC standings.

The loss hurts Duke from an ACC perspective, but the nation has been mostly focused on the health and status of Blue Devil freshman star Zion Williamson — who missed Tuesday’s game with the knee sprain suffered last week against North Carolina.

Without Williamson for, essentially, the third straight game, Duke has been forced to make adjustments on both ends of the floor. The offensive adjustments have been well-documented. Fellow freshmen R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish are now carrying a gigantic offensive workload without Zion in the lineup. Duke’s other role players have struggled to step up and hit shots. That even prompted the Blue Devils to burn freshman Joey Baker’s redshirt to see if he could help against the Syracuse zone on Saturday.

But while the offense has needed to make adjustments without Williamson, it’s been Duke’s defense that has arguably suffered more without the frontrunner for National Player of the Year.

On Tuesday, Duke had its worst defensive performance of the season, as they gave up 77 points on 63 possessions — which amounts to 1.222 points per possession. For perspective, Duke’s previous worst defensive game of the season came against Gonzaga (on the softest of rims on the planet) at the Maui Invitational — and that game was at 1.208 points per possession.

And Virginia Tech hasn’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut without senior point guard Justin Robinson. The Hokies are a very respectable No. 13 in adjusted offensive efficiency on KenPom. But they’ve also had to scrap and claw without Robinson as backup floor general Wabissa Bede is more of a defensive-minded player. A team that plays dreadfully slow put up 77 points on Duke — a number Virginia Tech hasn’t reached since Robinson went down with injury on Jan. 30.

Without Williamson’s defensive presence on the floor, Duke has particularly struggled to force steals — which they were doing at a nation-leading 13.7 percent before the North Carolina game. Against Syracuse, the Blue Devils only mustered two steals. In the loss to Virginia Tech, that number dropped to only one. For a team averaging over 10 steals per game entering Tuesday, that’s a gigantic drop, and it’s added even more pressure on Duke’s half-court offense to perform without Williamson.

The unique shot-blocking presence of Williamson has also been sorely missed. Virginia Tech big man Kerry Blackshear Jr. — one of the ACC’s hottest players who the Hokies should be playing through on every possession — dominated the Blue Devil bigs. As Blackshear (23 points, 10 rebounds, 7-for-11 shooting) was able to take his time and establish post position, Duke bigs had no chance of stopping him one-on-one.

Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier both did a respectable job of trying to establish position to contain Blackshear one-on-one. But the missing threat of Williamson’s weakside shot-blocking was noticeable in this one. Duke’s double-teams were slow to react and Blackshear was able to take long periods of time establishing position and going to work. Bolden becomes Duke’s only rim protector without Williamson in the lineup, and he can only do so much on his own if a player like Blackshear can continually get that comfortable.

The freakish athleticism of Williamson allows him to play as a sort of free safety when Duke is on defense, as he can cover ground and swallow up shots as well as anyone in the country. Just ask De’Andre Hunter. But without Williamson in the lineup, Duke’s turnover-producing defense hasn’t shown an ability to generate the takeaways that lead to easy buckets.

If Duke wants to be in the national title picture, they desperately need a healthy Williamson to re-enter the lineup so that they can get back to previous levels on both ends of the floor. Everyone loves to focus on the dunks and the offensive highlights, but Williamson’s impact is felt all over the floor for Duke when he’s out.

Tennessee center Tamari Key out for season with blood clots

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee senior center Tamari Key will miss the rest of this season because of blood clots in her lungs, coach Kellie Harper said.

Doctors found the issue during testing. Key is expected to make a full recovery after treatment from University of Tennessee doctors, Harper said, adding that her sole concern is Key getting the medical care she needs to heal and return to full strength.

Key missed the first game of her career in a win Tuesday night over Chattanooga after playing her first 99.

“This is much bigger than basketball. We are so grateful that this medical condition was caught,” Harper said in a statement. “Our entire program will be right beside Tamari during this process and welcomes prayers and positive thoughts from Lady Vol Nation and beyond.”

The Lady Vols opened the season ranked fifth but currently are 5-5.

The 6-foot-6 Key from Cary, North Carolina, currently is Tennessee’s third-leading scorer averaging 8.4 points a game and averaged 4.2 rebounds per game. She started all 34 games as the Lady Vols reached their first Sweet 16 since 2016 last season and set the school record with 119 blocked shots.

Key had 18 blocks this season and 295 for her career, five away from becoming the eighth woman to reach that mark in Southeastern Conference history.

No. 7 Tennessee beats Eastern Kentucky, win streak hits 7

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tyreke Key scored 10 of the first 12 points of the second half and finished with 17, and No. 7 Tennessee overcame a sluggish first half and beat Eastern Kentucky 84-49 on Wednesday night.

“Tyreke is handling the ball now,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s all new to him. He keeps getting better.”

The Volunteers (8-1) struggled in the first half but still built an 11-point lead over Eastern Kentucky (4-5) on the way to their seventh straight victory.

Key led Tennessee in scoring before leaving with a cramp in his right leg with 6:15 left in the game. Julian Phillips had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Zakai Zeigler and Uros Plavsic added 13 points apiece. Olivier Nkamhoua scored 10.

“I’m still settling in,” said Key, a transfer from Indiana State who didn’t play last year while recovering from an injury. “This is a new role. I’m taking steps every day and keep learning.”

Eastern Kentucky, which came into the game averaging 83.5 points, was held well below that total due to 17% (6 for 35) shooting from long range and 22% (15 for 68) overall. Leland Walker led the Colonels with 13 points.

It was the seventh time this season Tennessee has held its opponent to 50 or fewer points.

“(Tennessee) is the best defensive team in the country,” Eastern Kentucky coach A.W. Hamilton said. “I think they’re the best team in the country.”

At one point in the first half, Tennessee was shooting 20% and still leading by 10 points. The teams combined to shoot 4 of 32 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes. The Vols, who shot 24% (8 of 34), led 32-21 at the break.

“If we can’t make shots, can you find a way to win the game?” Barnes said. “When the shot’s not going in, find a way to play. The first thing we talk about is our defense.”

Tennessee shot 41 free throws. Phillips, a true freshman, was 7 of 10.

“(Phillips) has learned the pace of the game,” Barnes said. “I’m not sure there’s been a more effective freshman in the country (this season).”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Since its early season slip against Colorado, Tennessee has had a steady ascent in the rankings. The Vols’ next two games – neutral site (Brooklyn) against No, 13 Maryland (Dec. 11) and at No. 10 Arizona (Dec. 17) – will go a long way toward justifying the No. 7 ranking.

BIG PICTURE

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels’ run-and-gun style of offense had them averaging 83.5 points through their first eight games. They ran into a defensive buzz saw in Tennessee, which was yielding just over 51 points.

Tennessee: Santiago Vescovi sat out his second straight game with a shoulder problem. He is expected to be ready to play Sunday against Maryland. . The Vols have won seven in a row since their loss to Colorado.

UP NEXT

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels host Boyce College on Saturday.

Tennessee: Take on No. 13 Maryland on Sunday at the Hall of Fame Invitational in New York.

Hoggard scores career-high 23, Michigan State snaps 2-game skid

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A.J. Hoggard scored a career-high 23 points, Joey Hauser had 12 points and 15 rebounds and Michigan State beat Penn State 67-58 on Wednesday night to snap a two-game losing streak.

Michigan State (6-4, 1-1 Big Ten) avoided going .500 or worse after 10 games for the first time in 18 seasons.

Hoggard blocked an open layup with less than a minute to play and Hauser grabbed the rebound before being fouled and making two free throws at the other end for a 66-58 lead.

Hoggard, Hauser and Tyson Walker combined for 31 of Michigan State’s 32 second-half points.

The Michigan State defense allowed only one made field goal in the final five minutes. Penn State was just 1 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half after 7 of 18 before halftime.

Walker scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half for Michigan State. Hoggard, who entered third in the conference in assists at 6.3, had six rebounds, two assists and one key block.

Hoggard gave Michigan State 35-33 lead – its first since 4-2 – after back-to-back three-point plays with 59.3 seconds left in the first half. It was tied at 35-all at the break.

Seth Lundy scored 16 points and Jalen Pickett had 13 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists for Penn State (6-3, 0-1)

Michigan State hosts Brown on Saturday. Penn State, which hadn’t played since a double-overtime loss to Clemson on Nov. 29, plays at No. 17 Illinois on Saturday.

No. 7 Virginia Tech posts 9th straight win, beats Boston College 73-58

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BOSTON — Reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Elizabeth Kitley had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Cayla King scored 16 on Wednesday night to lead No. 7 Virginia Tech to a 73-58 victory over Boston College, the Hokies’ ninth straight win.

Taylor Soule, one of two BC transfers on the roster for Virginia Tech (9-0, 1-0 ACC), added nine points and five rebounds. Soule scored more than 1,500 points and grabbed almost 700 rebounds in four seasons at BC, earning All-ACC honors three times.

Andrea Daley scored 15 points and Maria Gakdeng scored 14 for BC (7-4, 0-1). They each grabbed six rebounds.

Virginia Tech scored 17 of the game’s first 21 points and led by as many as 19 in the third quarter before BC cut the deficit to 10 in the fourth. Leading 64-54 with under three minutes left and the shot clock expiring, Kayana Traylor hit a 3-pointer for the Hokies.

Gakdeng missed two free throws for BC, and then Kitley scored from inside to make it a 15-point game.

Clara Ford, who also played four years in Chestnut Hill, pitched in 2 points in 2 minutes against her former team.

BIG PICTURE

At No. 7, the Hokies have the highest ranking in the program’s history. With the victory over BC, a 10th straight win against North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday would leave Virginia Tech in position to move up even higher should a top five team falter.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech: Hosts North Carolina-Asheville on Sunday.

Boston College: Hosts Albany on Saturday.

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.