DURHAM, N.C. — Virginia Tech's Trevor Thompson turned in a steady performance in Duke's hostile arena, one that was good enough for his coach to believe the freshman "took a step forward."
Thompson, a 6-foot-11 forward, matched his season high with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting in the Hokies' 66-48 loss to the sixth-ranked Blue Devils on Tuesday night.
Before Tuesday, he was averaging 4.4 points on 39 percent shooting with just two double-digit scoring games this season.
Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said he thought his team could attack the interior against the Blue Devils.
"Trevor seemed to be a lot more patient out there tonight, took his time when he got the ball and he scored around the basket with his right hand, his left hand," Johnson said.
"I thought he took a step forward tonight against a very good team in a hostile environment, showed a lot of poise in the post and scored basically whenever he got the opportunity to."
Rodney Hood scored 21 points while Rasheed Sulaimon added 15 for the Blue Devils (23-6, 12-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), who jumped to a 24-4 lead midway through the first half and never trailed — though they struggled to land a game-finishing blow on the Hokies.
Duke didn't shoot the ball particularly well and its outside shooting was streaky, but it still had relatively little trouble against a Virginia Tech team that has won just once since the start of the calendar year. The last-place Hokies (9-18, 2-13) had a strong start to the second half and got within seven points, but never seriously threatened what would have been an improbable comeback in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Blue Devils finished the game shooting 39 percent, including 10 for 33 from 3-point range — well below their ACC-leading 40.7 percent.
The Blue Devils had completed a stretch of four games in eight days with Saturday's home win against then-No. 1 Syracuse, which came about 48 hours after the weather-delayed rivalry loss at North Carolina.
Now Mike Krzyzewski's team will finally get a week to regroup. Duke doesn't play again until next Wednesday's trip to Wake Forest, followed by the regular-season finale against UNC at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 8. The Blue Devils have won 32 straight home games, the longest streak in the nation.
The win, along with Clemson's loss at Wake Forest, helped secure some extra rest for the Blue Devils. They are assured a top-four seed in Greensboro and the double-round bye that comes with it.
Hood was 9 of 17 from the field to lead the Blue Devils, while Sulaimon knocked down four 3-pointers. Freshman Jabari Parker added a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds to go with three blocks.
Virginia Tech cut into Duke's big early lead and then shot 48 percent after halftime to keep the Blue Devils from running away with it.
Still, Duke's lead hovered around 10 to 12 points for most of the second half.
Duke ran out to a 15-2 lead on Sulaimon's first 3-pointer, then pushed ahead by 20 points when Sulaimon knocked down another 3 at the 9:50 mark.
Virginia Tech closed the gap to 32-20 by halftime thanks to a spark from C.J. Barksdale, who had nine points on 4-for-4 shooting, and got within 34-27 on Jarell Eddie's driving score with 17:59 left.
But Sulaimon knocked down two 3s then reserve big man Marshall Plumlee slammed home a miss to push the lead to 51-36. The Hokies never got the lead to single digits again.
Virginia Tech was short-handed once again for this game. Second-leading scorer Adam Smith (11 points) missed his 10th straight game with a left calf injury, third-leading scorer Ben Emelogu (10.8) missed his second straight with a left ankle injury while reserve forward Cadarian Raines played just 1 minute after being listed as questionable with an ankle injury.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap