Sloppy mistakes, controversial no-calls haunt Duke in loss at Virginia Tech

Duke’s Grayson Allen (3) reaches for the ball on top of Virginia Tech’s Justin Robinson (5) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, in Blacksburg, Va. (Matt Gentry/The Roanoke Times via AP)

If you’re part of the tinfoil hat crowd that insists Duke always gets a favorable whistle, go watch the final seconds of the fifth-ranked Blue Devils’ 64-63 loss at Virginia Tech.

You’ll find definitive proof Mike Krzyzewski’s team does not in fact get every call.

When Duke point guard Trevon Duval missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 25.6 seconds to go and his team clinging to a one-point lead, freshman Marvin Bagley tipped the offensive rebound in the direction of teammate Wendell Carter. It appeared Carter had a good chance to corral the loose ball had Virginia Tech’s Kerry Blackshear not held his right arm and impeded his progress without the referees noticing.

On Virginia Tech’s ensuing possession, the Hokies capitalized on the gift. Nickeil Alexander-Walker badly missed a potential go-ahead pull-up jumper, but junior forward Chris Clarke was there to put back the rebound with 4.1 seconds remaining in the game, providing the home team its first lead since the opening five minutes.

Duke’s Grayson Allen had one last-ditch chance to win the game for the Blue Devils, but he could not summon any buzzer-beating magic. Allen’s 30 footer fell short, and referees did not whistle a foul on Justin Robinson for crashing into the Duke star while contesting the shot.

Duke’s fourth loss of the season against an unranked opponent arrived at a time when the Blue Devils had been playing some of their best basketball. They had won five in a row and appeared to be performing better on defense than at any point this season.

By adding a victory over Duke to previous marquee wins against Virginia, North Carolina and Clemson, Virginia Tech all but secured a trip to the NCAA tournament. The Hokies (21-9, 10-7) could still get a bid even if they lose their final game of the regular season at Miami on Saturday and drop their opening ACC tournament game next week.

Tough calls down the stretch were certainly not the only reason Duke squandered a nine-point lead in the final six minutes and blew a game it led nearly from start to finish. The Blue Devils did not muster a single field goal in the final seven minutes, partially because they did a poor job getting the ball to Carter and Marvin Bagley in the paint and partially because they got sloppy and turned it over on several key possessions.

The decision to also have Duval in the game when Virginia Tech had to foul in the final minute was a dubious one. Duval is easily Duke’s worst free throw shooter among its primary rotation players and it was to Virginia Tech’s advantage to send 60.8 percent foul shooter to the line.

Ultimately, this was not a loss that the Blue Devils can blame on the referees, not when they got outscored 13-3 down the stretch during an error-plagued final six minutes.

But the final minute was a reminder that even Duke sometimes gets a tough whistle. Once in awhile anyway.

– – – – – – –

Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!