for this game

Duke survives scare from red-hot Vassallo

Mar 1, 2009 - 6:57 AM BLACKSBURG, Virginia (Ticker) -- Duke has already survived its roughest stretch of the season. On Saturday afternoon, it overcame a heroic effort from one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's top players.

The seventh-ranked Blue Devils saw their double-digit lead evaporate but managed to hold on for their fourth straight victory, 72-65 over Virginia Tech.

"We knew it was going to be tough," Henderson told the News & Observer of the team's ACC schedule. "We set ourselves up for that with the losses that we had. We're still keeping our eye on the prize. We set goals at the beginning of the year and that was one of our goals. We're still trying hard to attain that. Today was a great step for us."

Duke (24-5, 10-4 ACC) stumbled in the middle of its conference schedule, dropping four of six at one point. But it has responded in strong fashion - and perhaps none of its four straight victories was as impressive as this one.

"After we lost to Boston College, things were as low as it's been for a while for us," Duke guard Jon Scheyer told the News & Observer. "The one thing we knew is, this league is tough. We can't worry about other teams. We can't worry about what they do. Let's just win."

Virginia Tech senior A.D. Vassallo, after a quiet first half, exploded after the break to put a scare into the Blue Devils.

The 6-6 swingman scored 15 straight points for the Hokies at one point, almost single-handedly bringing his team back from the brink. Midway through the second half, he knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the deficit to seven. Then he went inside, driving to the lane on consecutive possessions, finishing strong with a layup and a dunk to pull the Hokies to within three at 56-53.

Kyle Singler answered with a floater in the lane to extend Duke's advantage to five, but the Blue Devils' defense was no match for Vassallo. For a while, it seemed he just couldn't miss, no matter what kind of shot he threw up. After Singler's bucket, Vassallo drove to the hoop and got off an off-balance scoop shot that hung on the rim for a few moments before sliding in to make it a 58-55 game.

Eighteen seconds later, he buried another one from the arc, tying the game at 58-58. However, pulling even was as good as it got for the Hokies (17-11, 7-7).

"We had it," Vassallo said. "We just needed one more bucket and I think we would have broken them down. I thought if we could get one more bucket and go up two, then I think they would have freaked out because they were in command the whole game. We just couldn't get it done."

Vassallo turned the ball over on their next possession and misfired from long range facing a two-point deficit with 4:10 on the clock. With Virginia Tech and its hot hand suddenly going cold, Duke finished the game off primarily at the foul line, burying 10 free throws over the last 4:25 to help put the game on ice.

"We fought back and got back in the game," Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "We were in position to win the game. Unfortunately, we didn't make the plays you need to make."

With just under two minutes to play and the Hokies down by four, Virginia Tech guard Malcolm Delaney was whistled for a questionable offensive foul. The Blue Devils capitalized, running the clock down and pushing the lead to six on Singler's layup.

"I was in foul trouble for most of the first half," Singler told the News & Observer. "I knew I had to do something to get something productive for the team to win."

Vassallo scored 21 of his 26 points in the second half to lead all scorers. Singler and Gerald Henderson led Duke with 21 points apiece.