By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
DURHAM, N.C. — For the University of Virginia men’s basketball team, its latest visit to this city ended in excruciating fashion. On the verge of an elusive win at sold-out Cameron Indoor Stadium, UVA instead saw Duke walk away with a last-second victory.
“It stings,” head coach Tony Bennett said Saturday, “but I give thanks, because I told our guys, `You battled, and you showed some mettle in an obviously super-charged environment. We’ll learn from it and we’ll grow from it.’ ”
The frenzied celebration that followed Duke’s 63-62 win spoke to how far the Cavaliers have come in seven seasons under Bennett. Virginia, seeking its third straight ACC regular-season title, came into Cameron ranked No. 7 nationally and riding a seven-game winning streak. And so when Duke guard Grayson Allen’s off-balance one-handed shot dropped through as time expired, the home fans’ reaction was deafening, and the storied arena almost shook.
“To say that was a hard-fought game would be underselling it,” Krzyzewski said after the Blue Devils won on his 69th birthday. “Wow, what a great, competitive game.”
The Wahoos (20-5, 9-4) were looking for their first win at Cameron since Jan. 14, 1995, and they knew it would not come easily. Virginia built an 11-point lead in the first half, but by intermission Duke (19-6, 8-4) had cut its deficit to three.
In the second half, the spectacular play of 6-9 freshman Brandon Ingram keyed a 10-0 run that gave Duke a seven-point lead, and it appeared the game might become a blowout. But Virginia steadied itself, launching a comeback that set up the dramatic final minute.
“We’re such an experienced team that we understand that we can get ourselves back in games,” fifth-year senior Anthony Gill said. “We never want to be in that position, but when you have the guys on the team who have the toughness and will power and the want-to to go out and do it, you never really get too frazzled.”
By the 7:12 mark, the `Hoos had pulled even at 55-55. The teams were tied again at 56-56 and 58-58. Virginia squandered several opportunities to take the lead, but finally, with 9.9 seconds left, fifth-year senior Malcolm Brogdon laid in a shot over his head after catching a pass from sophomore Marial Shayok (four assists).
Brogdon’s basket put the Cavaliers ahead 62-61, and they were one stop away from an unforgettable road victory.
“Look, they’re a really good team, and it was one play,” said Krzyzewski, who has won five NCAA titles at Duke. “They could’ve won, but we did … I thought both teams were deserving of winning, and that’s what makes a great game when that happens.”
Had a whistle blown during the game’s final sequence, the Cavaliers might have been the ones celebrating. Allen, closely defended by Shayok, appeared to travel before putting up his game-winning shot. No call was made, however, and the stunned `Hoos watched as the Devils swarmed over Allen on the court.
“I kind of joked with Coach K after,” Bennett told reporters. “I said, `I think [Allen] traveled,’ and Coach said, `Well, I think he got fouled.’ That’s what we said as we embraced each other. It was a big-league play, and good defense.”
Brogdon said: “It’s frustrating, but it’s part of the game. You win some, you lose some close ones.”
Virginia cannot afford to indulge in self-pity. Another test is imminent for the Cavaliers. At 7 p.m. Monday, UVA hosts NC State (13-12, 3-9) and its electrifying point guard, Anthony “Cat” Barber, at John Paul Jones Arena.
“The good thing about a quick turnaround is we don’t have time to hang our heads,” said Gill, who scored 12 points against Duke. “We’re going to go in the gym and really move on from this and learn from it, but continue to work.”
Barber, a junior who starred at Hampton High School, scored a career-high 38 points Saturday afternoon to lead NC State to a 99-88 victory over Wake Forest in Raleigh. Barber leads the ACC in scoring.
“He’s elite in terms of his quickness and speed,” Bennett said, “and he’s added some shooting to his game. He’s having a heck of a year.”
So too is Ingram, who’s projected to be the No. 2 pick in the next NBA draft. He finished with a game-high 25 points Saturday and also had seven rebounds, all of which he grabbed in the second half.
Ingram scored Duke’s final eight points of the first half and its first 10 of the second half. At that point Bennett put the 6-5 Brogdon, who had been defending Allen, on Ingram. In the final 12 minutes, Ingram scored only two points.
“He’s a great player,” Brogdon said, “but like anybody, if you make him uncomfortable, they’re not going to hit as many shots. I tried to do that in the second half.”
With Brogdon no longer shadowing him, Allen regained his offensive rhythm. He scored nine of his 15 points in the final 8:35.
Switching Brogdon’s assignment was “tough,” Bennett said, “because then Grayson got going a little bit. It just shows you our team defense is strong, but Malcolm has the ability to really spread out and guard people. People should take note of that at the next level, in my opinion. That’s my plug for him there. It’s hard because Allen is so aggressive, and he can get going into the lane and draw some fouls, but Ingram can rise up [and dominate]. We just had to pick our poison in a way.”
With 6-9 Amile Jefferson out with a foot injury, Duke’s rotation includes only one traditional post player, 7-0 Marshall Plumlee, and to better match up on defense Virginia often employed a four-guard lineup in the second half. The Devils outrebounded the Cavaliers 24-10 in the final 20 minutes and finished with a 34-26 edge on the boards.
“We just couldn’t match up with Ingram,” Bennett said. “We had a hard time.”
Brogdon led Virginia with 18 points and tied 6-7 sophomore Isaiah Wilkins for team honors with five rebounds. Senior center Mike Tobey came off the bench to contribute eight points, all in the first half, but Gill was the only Cavalier other than Brogdon to finish in double figures.
Junior point guard London Perrantes, who came in as the ACC’s best 3-point shooter (53.4 percent), scored eight points Saturday but did not attempt a shot from beyond the arc.
Overall, the Cavaliers were only 2 for 11 from 3-point range. Redshirt sophomore Devon Hall missed two open looks in the first half, and Brogdon was 1 for 6.
“Just not falling,” Brogdon said of his 3-pointers.
With score 58-58, the Cavaliers twice missed shots that would have given them the lead: the first a floater by Perrantes at the 5:00 mark and the second a layup by Brogdon with 4:10 remaining. Then, with 3:25 to play, redshirt sophomore guard Darius Thompson missed an open 3-pointer that would have put Virginia up 61-60.
Had any of those shots dropped for the Cavaliers, they might have left Durham in better spirits. Still, the loss did not lessen their resolve.
“I told our guys, we’ll find the good stuff and grow from the other stuff,” Bennett said.
Five regular-season games remain for Virginia, including four against teams in the top half of the ACC standings: No. 12 Miami, No. 9 North Carolina, Clemson and No. 13 Louisville.
“This stretch of games, I said [to UVA’s players], will test the mettle of great teams,” Bennett said. “Now, I don’t think we’re a great team. I think at times we’re good and can play real good, but this will test us. We’ll get ourselves as ready as we can and stay true to who we are.”