By Jeff White
DURHAM, N.C. — Forty minutes.
That’s the length of a college basketball game, and it was a phrase heard time and again Saturday afternoon as Tony Bennett and his players analyzed UVa’s 76-60 loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“We weren’t able to put 40 minutes together, and we knew it was going to take 40 minutes to beat Duke at Duke,” junior guard Sammy Zeglinski said.
Senior forward Will Sherrill said: “Coach told us after the game that we have to know who we are for 40 minutes. If we’re going to hang our hat on the defensive end, we have to play 40 minutes of hard defense. That gave us the lead for the first 30 minutes. We just have to work on finishing for the whole 40.”
Virginia took the lead in this ACC game with 10:31 left in the first half, on a Zeglinski free throw that made it 12-11. The Cavaliers didn’t relinquish it until the 12:15 mark of the second half, when Andre Dawkins’ three-point play put the top-ranked Blue Devils up 45-44.
The Wahoos (1-2, 10-7) did not unravel immediately. With 8:50 remaining, Duke’s lead was only two, 54-52. But a stickback by All-America forward Kyle Singler, followed by back-to-back 3-pointers by Dawkins, pushed the Devils’ lead to 10, and UVa put up little resistance the rest of the way.
Dawkins, a sophomore, scored 12 of his 14 points after intermission to help Duke rally from a six-point halftime deficit. Nine came on 3-pointers. The 6-4 guard from Chesapeake is the latest Virginian to torment UVa while wearing a Duke uniform, joining a list that includes Grant Hill and J.J. Redick.
“Those 3s he hit, that was the dagger,” Bennett said.
The game was the first at defending NCAA champion Duke’s storied arena for Virginia’s second-year coach and many of his players. That group included freshmen Joe Harris, KT Harrell and Akil Mitchell and sophomore Jontel Evans, each of whom played at least 22 minutes Saturday.
It ended in familiar fashion for Virginia, which has lost 14 straight at Cameron. Still, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, the ‘Hoos “played a terrific game. They’re extremely well-coached, and they make each other better. They’ll be a tough out for everybody, as they were today.”
Indeed, Bennett’s club was much more competitive than the teams coached by Dave Leitao and Pete Gillen generally were in Durham.
“I told our guys in the locker room after the game, for 28 minutes, 30 minutes, they played so hard and they executed, and they did good things, things to build on, in a tough setting against a heck of a team,” Bennett said. “Then the last 10 minutes I thought we fractured defensively.
“We really made Duke earn most of the game, up until that point, with our defense. We were in position, we fought, and we told them it was going to be a battle for your composure and your toughness. And when that went away, that’s when Duke separated itself quickly.”
The Blue Devils were 1 of 12 from 3-point range in the first half. They were 4 for 8 after intermission, and they also dominated the backboards. Bennett’s frontcourt options were limited after 7-0 junior Assane Sene picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, and Duke capitalized on its size advantage.
Singler’s stickback with 8:43 left was the third shot on that Duke possession. Another offensive rebound on the Blue Devils’ next possession led to the second of Dawkins’ treys.
Mason Plumlee, a 6-10 sophomore, led Duke with 16 boards, six at the offensive end.
For Virginia, Harris and senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan scored 15 points apiece. But Farrakhan had only 3 in the second half as the Blue Devils raised their defensive intensity.
“They upped their pressure a little bit, and they really got into him,” Bennett said. “I think he wore down a little bit … There was some fatigue, and that’s what they do to you. We got a little rattled when it kind of got ratcheted up, and we’ll learn from it. Some of our young guys did some good things, but that was a new experience for them.”
Harris, who’s from Chelan, Wash., grew up watching Duke games on ESPN, many of them broadcast from Cameron.
“So to finally get in here and play, it’s obviously a great experience,” Harris said. “Their fans, they live up to all their hype.
“For 30 minutes, we had them on the ropes, and we were playing great, and then that last 10 minutes of the game, I don’t know, we just kind of collapsed.”
That can happen against Duke, Bennett knows.
The Devils “struggle for a while, and then they can get it going quickly,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of answers, and we missed some easy looks we should have had, and there it was. It got away quick.”
With 16:12 left, senior forward Will Sherrill scored from the paint to give UVa its largest second-half lead (42-33). A week earlier, the ‘Hoos had led another perennial power, North Carolina, by 11 in the second half. They lost that one too.
“We gotta find a way to last and maintain,” Bennett said. “That’s what we talked about afterward. I said, ‘You were there for most of the game against Carolina, and the same thing here.’ That’s where that margin of error comes in. That’s where you can’t beat yourself, and that’s where I thought we labored. We’ll keep learning from it.”
The game was the Cavaliers’ fifth straight without their best player, 6-8 senior Mike Scott, who’ll miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. Sene had 5 rebounds and scored 8 points, a career high for him in an ACC game, but the lack of low-post production again hurt UVa.
Even so, Zeglinski said, “We have enough on this team to be real competitive in this league, and I felt we showed that tonight for the first 30 minutes, that when we’re locked in on the defensive end we can play with anyone.”
Sophomore point guard Jontel Evans said: “I see a lot of positives, that we can play with the big boys, that we’re capable of winning these games. We just have to fight it out through the whole 40 minutes.”
There was that phrase again.
“You gotta play against a team like this for 40 minutes,” Bennett said.