Feb. 1, 2015

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — For a UVa men’s basketball team that had known nothing but victory this season, a team that hadn’t lost a game at John Paul Jones Arena since November 2013 and hadn’t lost to an ACC opponent there since March 2012, any defeat would have stung.

The manner in which the second-ranked Cavaliers lost Saturday night, though, made it worse.

“I thought there was enough offense there to win that game,” UVa head coach Tony Bennett said. “What you have to do is come up with some tough stops.”

Virginia entered its game with No. 4 Duke as the nation’s leader in scoring defense (49.2 ppg) and the ACC’s leader in field-goal percentage defense (34.1). But the Wahoos’ inability to slow the Blue Devils late in the game resulted in a numbing loss before a sellout crowd, many of whose members had also turned out Saturday morning for a raucous College GameDay show at JPJ.

Duke scored 43 second-half points and rallied for a 69-63 victory.

“This hurts,” UVa point guard London Perrantes said, “because it feels like we had it in our hands and let it go.”

Virginia (19-1, 7-1) led by nine with 5:10 remaining, but Duke scored on its last eight possessions. The Blue Devils (18-3, 5-3) hit six of their final eight 3-point attempts. On each of the two misses, Duke grabbed an offensive rebound to extend the possession and eventually came away with two points.

“I’m frustrated right now because I felt like it was in the grasp,” Bennett said. “We had it to take home, and we couldn’t finish it.”

Duke shot 56.7 percent from the floor in the second half and 50.9 percent overall. Not since Jan. 12, 2013, had an ACC team shot 50 percent or better against Virginia. And so to see Duke light up their Pack-Line defense was unsettling for the `Hoos.

“It is weird losing that way, because that’s who we are,” junior swingman Justin Anderson said. “It kind of took a little bit out of me there at the end. My stomach was hurting. My stomach’s still kind of hurting. But at the same time, that’s not our championship game. We gotta make sure we take this and we gotta watch the film and learn from it.”

Another major challenge awaits the `Hoos, who leave Sunday afternoon for Chapel Hill, N.C. Virginia meets No. 13 North Carolina (17-5, 7-2) at 7 p.m. Monday in a game ESPN will televise.

“When you lose a game, you want to get right back into it,” redshirt junior guard Malcolm Brogdon said.

UNC stumbled Saturday night too. The Tar Heels, who came in on a six-game winning streak, blew an 18-point second-half lead and fell 78-68 in overtime at No. 10 Louisville.

At JPJ, the game marked the first clash between top-5 men’s basketball teams in Charlottesville since Feb. 3, 1982, when third-ranked Virginia hammered second-ranked UNC 74-58 at University Hall. Long before the jump ball Saturday night, the crowd of 14,593 was stoked, but UVa fans had little to cheer for much of the first half.

Against a team renowned for not allowing transition baskets, the Devils scored 10 fast-break points in the first half.

“They really had us on our heels, and that hurt,” Bennett said.

With 6:20 left in the opening half, Duke led by nine. But the Cavaliers battled back behind 6-8 senior Darion Atkins, who scored all nine of his points in the first half, and by intermission their deficit was only one.

Early in the second half, Brogdon twice converted three-point plays, and Virginia found itself with what appeared to be a commanding 41-30 lead.

The Devils steadied themselves, but the Cavaliers continued to shoot well. A basket by redshirt junior Anthony Gill put Virginia up 56-47 with 5:18 left, and the game seemed destined to end as so many others have at JPJ.

With 5:08 to play, however, freshman guard Tyus Jones revived the Blue Devils with a three-point play that made it 56-50.

The Cavaliers “were ready to lower the boom on us,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “and I thought that kept us in the game. It was a hard-fought, heck of a game. They’re very good. They’re so deserving of everything that’s been said about them.”

On a night when Virginia made only 3 of 13 shots from 3-point range, Brogdon made 6 of 11 from inside the arc and finished with a game-high 17 points.

“Brogdon’s not a good player,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a great player.”

The same is true for Duke center Jahlil Okafor, who’s projected to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Still, for all the pregame talk about Okafaor, the 6-11, 270-pound freshman did not overwhelm the `Hoos. He made several key plays in the second half, but UVa held Okafor to a season-low 10 points and forced him into five turnovers.

“We tried to make him work,” Bennett said. “You can see how capable he is … That job was good, but probably not a good enough job on the other guys.”

Jones finished with 17 points, four assists, four rebounds and only one turnover in 38 minutes. Duke also received huge contributions from senior guard Quinn Cook (15 points) and freshman forward Justise Winslow (15 points, game-high 11 rebounds).

Many NBA draft analysts project Winslow, like Okafor, to be a lottery pick.

“We had a little trouble with Winslow,” Bennett said. “He was special tonight. I think you could see why they talk about him the way they do.”

Cook, Duke’s only senior starter, took over late in the game, hitting three treys in the final 4:37. After a Brogdon 3-pointer pushed UVa’s lead to 61-55 with 3:38 left, Cook answered in kind at the other end. With 1:15 to play, Cook put the Devils ahead 66-63 with his final trey.

“We knew he was going to make and take big shots,” Perrantes said. “Our scouting report is he was always looking to make that big play, and he did. They all made big shots, they all made big plays, and Okafor facilitated really well toward the end of the game.”

Down three in the final minute, Virginia struggled to get a good look. Junior center Mike Tobey, trying to draw a foul, put up an off-balance shot on a drive with 40 seconds left, and Duke grabbed the rebound. With 10.4 seconds left, Jones, well-covered by Perrantes, buried one final 3-pointer, and the Cavaliers’ streaks were over.

“They are so darn good,” Krzyzewski said. “Their crowd was great. What an amazing setting to celebrate their basketball program, which should be celebrated. I thought their effort was outstanding and I thought ours was too. We just won a really tough game.”

More such games await Virginia, starting Monday night in Chapel Hill. The ‘Hoos host Louisville at JPJ at 7 p.m. Saturday.

“You hate to give up a game on your home floor that you had a good chance to get, but you did,” Bennett said. “I told our guys, `If you won it, it didn’t make or break your season, and if you lost it, it didn’t. It’s what you do from here on out,’ and I think our guys understand that.”

Perrantes said: “We just gotta put this one aside. We can’t do anything about it now. We just gotta learn from it and play again on Monday.”

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