You couldn’t fault Duke’s effort Monday night.

Yes, the Blue Devils lost another road game, this time 78-75 to a Virginia Tech team that entered the game with just 1 ACC victory. Yes, the game was the latest road defeat for a Duke team that has managed just 1 road win, by 1 point at Boston College. But young teams struggle on the road, and Duke is Duke, which is a short way of explaining that wherever the Blue Devils go, the road environment is difficult because everyone wants to beat Duke.

The fight, however, was there.

Duke fell behind 29-19 early as the Hokies couldn’t miss, and trailed by 7 at halftime. The Blue Devils rallied anyway, silencing a frenzied Cassell Coliseum crowd with a 13-6 run out of the locker room to tie the game at 51 on a Mark Mitchell 3. Minutes later, Duke led, when Kyle Filipowski, who was brilliant, connected on one of his 4 three pointers to stake the Blue Devils to a 56-53 advantage.

Of course, we live in a bottom line world and winning is the bottom line of the basketball business. Duke lost, plagued yet again by an inability to score down the stretch. Ryan Young made a putback with 7:09 left in the game to tie the game at 67, but Duke didn’t make another field goal until nearly 5 minutes later, when Young scored at the tin again. By then, Virginia Tech led by 5, and moments later, when Jeremy Roach had a chance to cut into a 3 point lead at the line, the Duke guard missed the front end of a 1 and 1, all but eliminating any hope for a Duke victory.

Virginia Tech was a desperate team, and in an energized building, Duke fought just as hard as the Hokies. They just came up short.

Typically, then, you’d look at this game, and the win against an outstanding Miami team at Cameron Indoor Stadium over the weekend, and you’d take the good with the bad and talk about a young team that is clearly growing up. There’s no need to panic. That would be the right thread.

Except Dariq Whitehead went down Monday night, grabbing his calf after battling Justyn Mutts for a loose ball in the second half. Whitehead watched the end of the game on crutches near the Duke tunnel, helpless and hurting.

The loss of Whitehead, who per Jon Scheyer may miss a good amount of time, changes Duke’s outlook.

The jewel of Duke’s top-ranked recruiting class, the 5-star wing was beginning to blossom into the player Blue Devils fans thought he would be when he signed last year. Universally projected as a 2023 lottery pick, Whitehead broke his right foot in practice in August, and had surgery shortly afterward. This slowed his integration into the Duke team as he missed the bulk of the Blue Devils’ autumn practices.

When Whitehead did return, it took him time to get into game shape and, as is the case with most freshman, adjust to college basketball. But that adjustment appeared to be completed of late, as Whitehead had provided a Duke team in dire need of perimeter offense with double-figures scoring in 6 of his past 8 games. Against Virginia Tech, Whitehead had 10 points, with 2 made 3-pointers, when he was injured. He was also well on his way to his most efficient game, shooting 4-6 from the floor and dishing out an assist.

Whitehead’s injury deprives the Blue Devils of their best natural scorer at a time when Jeremy Roach is not quite in game shape, despite his usual herculean effort, and Whitehead’s fellow diaper dandy, Tyrese Proctor, continues to struggle from deep, shooting just 26% from beyond the 3-point line.

Duke runs great offense, but the Blue Devils can’t hit shots, as evidenced by an Adjusted Offensive Efficiency rating of 33rd in KenPom but a true shooting percentage that ranks 251st in the country, per Hoops Lens. Duke is shooting just 32% beyond the arc, ranking 267th in the country, and Whitehead’s absence deprives Duke of one of its best perimeter options, as the freshman star was shooting 37.3% from deep.

Duke’s frontcourt, led by the sensational Filipowski, who had defied every expectation, and the improving every game Ryan Young, is formidable enough to get this Duke team easily into the NCAA Tournament and in all likelihood, through the first round. But without Whitehead, is Duke’s ceiling the Round of 32 or at best, a Sweet 16? Would Duke fans accept that in Scheyer’s first season, given the hype surrounding this recruiting class and the hurt that still lingers from last year’s Final Four heartache?

Time and Duke’s trainers will tell on Whitehead and perhaps, on Duke.

The Blue Devils should grab a second road win at a dismal Georgia Tech this weekend before a big rematch in Cameron Indoor next week against Wake Forest. Duke needs that game too, or an extended losing streak is possible, given a brutal 3-game stretch with games against UNC, Virginia, and a trip to Coral Gables and a rematch with Miami begins on Feb. 4 when the Tar Heels make the 8-mile trip to Durham. A winning record in that 5-game span would be impressive.

Young Duke teams have bucked the odds before. Whether this one can, playing under a young head coach, as opposed to a Hall of Famer and legend, remains to be seen.

Monday night’s Whitehead injury? That makes the journey much harder. Then again, what’s that Coach Krzyzewski saying?

“The harder the journey, the more worth it winning becomes.”

With or without Whitehead, Duke will put that mantra to the test in the coming weeks.