By Jeff White (email@example.com)
DURHAM, N.C. — Win or lose, Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski almost always is gracious in his postgame comments about the opposing team. So it was again late Thursday night, but there was nothing obligatory about Krzyzewski’s praise for the Virginia Cavaliers and their third-year coach, Tony Bennett.
In a game that matched two of the ACC’s top teams, No. 8 Duke held off No. 16 UVa 61-58 before an ESPN audience and a capacity crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The loss was the Wahoos’ 15th straight in an arena where they haven’t won since the 1994-95 season. Unlike most of the previous 14 defeats, however, this was no blowout. In the final seconds, the ‘Hoos twice missed 3-point attempts that would have forced overtime.
“That was an unbelievable game,” Krzyzewski said after his team’s 44th consecutive win at Cameron. “It was a war. I thought both teams competed at the highest level. It was really a terrific win for our kids, because they had to fight for 40 minutes against an outstanding team, a veteran team obviously and an extremely well-coached team with a player who’s playing probably as well as anybody in the country.”
That player, of course, is 6-8 forward Mike Scott, a fifth-year senior who finished with 23 points and 9 rebounds, both game highs. Virginia (1-1, 14-2) led 32-28 at the break Thursday night, largely because because of his 16 first-half points. Scott’s passing led to baskets for teammates as well.
“When a kid does that — I shouldn’t call him a kid — when a man does that in this type of game, he’s a helluva player, just a helluva player,” Krzyzewski said.
Alas for the Cavaliers, Scott’s tour de force wasn’t enough.
“To beat Duke here, you gotta be hitting on most cylinders, and we were probably not quite there,” Bennett said. “You need to be an eight-cylinder, and we were maybe a five-cylinder.”
Foul trouble limited sophomore swingman Joe Harris to nine minutes in the first half, but he scored 11 points after intermission and finished with 14. But UVa’s starting guards — fifth-year senior Sammy Zeglinski and junior Jontel Evans — never got going at the offensive end.
“It was frustrating,” Zeglinski said after his first scoreless game of the season. “I was getting some good looks, and I wasn’t able to knock them down. It hurts, because I want to help my teammates, and I just wasn’t able to do it tonight. I have to be able to put some points up.”
Between them, Zeglinski and Evans had 11 assists, but they were a combined 0 for 14 from the floor. Zeglinski, the team’s best 3-point shooter, was 0 for 5 from beyond the arc. Evans missed all six of his field-goal attempts and didn’t get to the foul line.
“We just probably needed a little more perimeter scoring to help,” said Bennett, whose team was 0 for 11 from 3-point range in the second half. “We didn’t get that, but the young men battled.”
A season ago at Cameron, with many of the same players, Virginia had lost 76-60 after leading for the first 7:45 of the second half. An 11-2 run put the Blue Devils (2-0, 14-2) ahead 45-38 on Thursday night, but these Cavaliers battled back, even after their deficit grew to nine with 4:54 to play.
“We lost, and we gotta learn from it, but last year we got in a similar spot [at Cameron], and there was a run where the crowd got into it, and we struggled,” Bennett said. “I don’t want to say we collapsed, but we struggled, and [Duke] just started separating. And tonight could have been the same situation, and I thought that’s where we got a little tougher and stingier defensively, and that got us back on track, and then we made some tough baskets, and that was why we at least had a chance at the end to send it into overtime.”
Sophomore forward Akil Mitchell said: “Nobody really wants to hear about a moral victory, but I think it really speaks to our leadership and our character that we came back and battled back this year. I really think that speaks to what this team is capable of doing for the rest of the year.”
Before Thursday night, no opponent had shot better than 48 percent from the floor against UVa this season. Duke hit 60.9 percent of its shots in the second half and 52.2 percent overall. The Devils did much of their damage in the first 10 minutes of the second half, after which UVa’s defense reverted to form.
Duke didn’t make a field goal in the final four minutes. Its final points came at the 2:16 mark, when junior forward Ryan Kelly’s two free throws made it 61-55.
“That first 10 minutes of the second half is what hurt us,” Evans said. “We had a lot of lapses, and great teams like that will capitalize, and that’s what they did.”
Scott said: “Defensively, that really wasn’t Virginia basketball. But we fought our way back into the game, and it came down to a last-second shot.”
With 1:04 left, Harris made 1 of 2 from the line to pull UVa to 61-56. Two seconds later, Kelly missed two free throws, and the 6-8 Mitchell punctuated the Cavaliers’ next possession with an acrobatic one-handed putback dunk of an Evans miss.
“That was a great finish,” Evans said. “He really showed his athleticism on that play, and I’m glad he made that play, because we needed it.”
Mitchell’s second slam of the night made it 61-58 with 47 seconds to play. Virginia played lockdown defense on Duke’s next possession, which ended with a missed runner by junior guard Seth Curry that Mitchell appeared to partially block. Mitchell came down with the rebound — his sixth — with 14 seconds remaining, and the ‘Hoos tried to extend the game.
Scott had closed the first half with a trey from the right corner, and now he got free in the same spot, thanks to a solid screen from Harris. This 3-point attempt, however, hit the side of the backboard and came directly to Evans on the right wing. Evans’ shot came closer to falling, but it bounced off the rim, and the Cavaliers’ 12-game winning streak was over.
“It was a great look,” Evans said. “I had a lot of time. It was crazy how the ball just rolled to me, but it went in and out.”
Scott’s final point came on a free throw with 4:53 left. The Plumlee brothers — 6-10 Mason and 6-10 Miles — took turns defending Scott in the second half, and Duke’s tactics paid off.
“We were more physical on him,” Kelly said. “We made his shots a little tougher in that there was always somebody right in his face or there was somebody on his hip. Early in the first half especially he was getting his pet shot, his little mid-range [jumper], and he was shooting wide open jump shots off of those screens.”
On a night when Evans and Zeglinski were struggling offensively, UVa got key contributions off the bench from Mitchell (6 points) and freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon (5 points). Brogdon’s classmates, 6-8 Darion Atkins and 6-6 Paul Jesperson, also played well.
“I thought our young kids did a good job,” Bennett said. “Akil brought some activity on the offensive glass, kept some plays alive, and when you’re struggling and not everybody’s clicking, you need to get those extra points, whether it’s second-chance points, some transition buckets or get some at the line, and I thought Akil did a nice job.”
Mitchell, who’s from Charlotte, N.C., said, “I’ve been watching the Cameron Crazies and watching Duke since I was little, and to be in a game in a critical moment is really special to me. I just really wish we could have got a ‘W’ here, especially for the seniors who won’t be back.”
The ‘Hoos don’t play again until Thursday night, when they meet Georgia Tech (1-1, 8-8) in Atlanta. Virginia’s next home game is Jan. 22 against Virginia Tech (0-2, 11-5) at John Paul Jones Arena.
“It doesn’t stop here,” Evans said. “Like the coaches say, we got a lot of basketball to play.”
The Blue Devils won’t be surprised if the Cavaliers remain near the top of the ACC standings.
“I think people know who they are, but they’re still kind of underrated,” freshman guard Austin Rivers said. “Virginia is a great team. Every team they play, whether it’s us, North Carolina, it’s going to be a great game — if they play Kentucky, Kansas. They’re older, they’re smart, and the way they play kind of frustrates a lot of teams, especially teams like us or Kentucky or Carolina that have a lot of athletic players that like to get up and down. ”
Krzyzewski said: “They are who they are, which is very good. And they’re going to be right in the running for our league, the NCAA tournament. I think this Virginia team is unbelievably solid with a great player … And Tony’s a really good coach, so he’s going to get him the ball. It’s a nice combination — good players and outstanding coach — and all of a sudden [UVa is] 14-2.”