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Singler, second-half run lead Duke to successful ACC opener

Jan 5, 2009 - 5:21 AM DURHAM, North Carolina (Ticker) -- On a day where its top rival absorbed its first loss, Duke got out to a great start in league play.

Kyle Singler scored 19 points as fifth-ranked Duke kicked off its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule on the right foot, posting a 69-44 victory over Virginia Tech on Sunday.

Gerald Henderson had 15 points and Nolan Smith added 13 for the Blue Devils (12-1, 1-0 ACC), who notched their fourth straight lopsided win.

While top-ranked North Carolina was stunned at home by Boston College in its opener, Duke began an ACC campaign with a win for the 12th time in the last 13 years.

"It's a much more physical game when you get into conference play," Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Nobody's afraid of the other team. The intensity just goes up a level. You have to play through contact. I'm not saying it's fouls, but there's more contact than in some of the non-conference games."

The Hokies, who dropped an 81-64 decision to the Blue Devils in last season's lone meeting, were down 39-31 at the break before closing within four points after collecting the first two baskets of the second half.

Yet, Virginia Tech's rally only woke up Duke, which then went on a 30-9 run to close out the game. Singler had nine second-half points and Smith added eight.

The Blue Devils turned it around after Krzyzewski called a 30-second timeout with 17:25 remaining.

"We just really decided that we can play better defense than we were and be sharper on the offensive end than we were," Henderson said. "We were still up but they were four points down. They were still in the game, so we just needed to turn up our effort a little bit."

The brief break really worked wonders for Duke, which held Virginia Tech to 4-of-13 shooting and forced 10 of its 18 turnovers afterward.

"We scored 13 points in the second half," Hokies coach Seth Greenberg said of the Blue Devils' improved defense. "I hope that's the case.

"They did a good job of switching (on screens). They pushed us out, and we didn't really respond. We made a lot of bad decisions. We'd get the ball to the front of the rim and either miss a shot or throw it away."

Singler, who went 7-of-11 from the field, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out seven assists.

Henderson also pulled down eight boards and Jon Scheyer scored 11 for the Blue Devils, who shot just 41 percent (22-of-54) but also converted 19-of-20 free throws.

Malcolm Delaney scored 12 points for the Hokies (9-5, 0-1), who ended up 37 percent (18-of-49) from the field.

Duke will return to non-conference play on Wednesday when it takes on Davidson and one of the nation's top shooters in Davidson.

"Obviously he's a great player," Scheyer said. "We've played them the past two years and they're a really tough team, play great defense, and they play really well together. Obviously (Curry is) one of the best players in the country so it's going to be a challenge."