But this was a struggle.
Duke didn't put away the 10th-seeded Hokies (16-17) until the closing seconds, even though Virginia Tech went more than 8 minutes without making a field goal in the second half.
Rivers scored 17 points and sealed it by outrunning two Hokies for a loose ball near midcourt. Trailing 55-51, Virginia Tech's Erick Green took off for the hoop, looking to turn it into a one-possession game. But his shot ricocheted off the rim – appropriate for the Hokies on this night – and someone slapped the rebound the other way.
Four players, two from each team, took off after the ball. Rivers beat them all to it, drove to the basket, drew a foul and completed the three-point play with 15.1 seconds left.
Thornton was a little-used weapon for the Blue Devils, coming into the game averaging just 3.7 points. But he kept finding himself open, so he kept putting it up.
The 6-foot-1 sophomore, who had not attempted more than six shots in a game all season, put it up a staggering 16 times – all but three of them from beyond the 3-point arc. Three of those went in, and Duke needed every one to hold off Virginia Tech.
It was amazing the Hokies hung around for that long, considering they made only 16 of 53 shots and needed a late flourish just to nudge their average above 30 percent. After Green's jumper with 13:14 remaining, Virginia Tech didn't score again until Robert Brown hit a short fallaway jumper with 4:53 left to make it 50-42.
Green broke into a frustrated smile as he headed back up the court, seeming to sense that nothing was going to go on this night.
Brown and Green led the Hokies with 16 points apiece, but Green made only 3-of-16 shots. He did most of his damage at the foul line, going 9-for-9.Mason Plumlee added 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Blue Devils