By Jeff White (email@example.com)
DURHAM, N.C. — On Thursday and Friday afternoons, back in Charlottesville, the noise level inside John Paul Jones Arena became deafening at times, but not because there were screaming fans in the stands.
To prepare his basketball team for what lay ahead at Cameron Indoor Stadium, University of Virginia head coach Tony Bennett had a recording of Duke’s student section played at full volume over the main court at JPJ.
“He was playing it so loud, it was hard to concentrate,” UVA sophomore guard Kyle Guy said.
That, of course, was the point. The Cavaliers walked into a cauldron Saturday afternoon — a storied arena packed with a sellout crowd featuring the Cameron Crazies — and walked out with a momentous victory.
“It’s one of the best feelings in basketball,” sophomore guard Ty Jerome said after No. 2 Virginia rallied to defeat No. 4 Duke 65-63 in a nationally televised ACC game.
“I’ve never been in a more crazy environment,” Guy said, “and I’m very happy and excited to get a win here.”
To be able to prevail in Durham is “a good sign, for sure,” Bennett said. “But as everybody will tell you, it’s one conference game in the middle part of the year. You don’t want to make too much of it, but it was a special environment, as it always is here, and you do have to have some poise and toughness in these settings.”
Since winning at Cameron in 1995, Virginia had lost 17 straight games there before breaking through Saturday. Jason Williford, now one of Bennett’s assistant coaches, was a forward on that 1994-95 UVA team.
“I love it,” Williford said. “We’ve been close [in recent years], but it’s good to get one.”
With 6.1 seconds left, Guy made both ends of a one-and-one to give the Wahoos (20-1, 9-0) a four-point lead. Duke’s extraordinary freshman big man, Marvin Bagley III, scored on a stickback at the buzzer, but that didn’t change the outcome.
The Cavaliers are in first place in the ACC, and they showed why against a team loaded with future NBA players, including Bagley III (30 points, 14 rebounds) and fellow freshman Wendell Carter Jr. (14 points, 15 rebounds, four blocked shots).
“That was an amazingly hard-fought game,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Congratulations to Virginia. They made a couple really big plays down the stretch, and we didn’t make them.”
It was a game in which Bennett, in an uncharacteristic display of emotion, expressed his displeasure to the officials as the foul disparity between Duke and Virginia grew in the second half.
“I was just trying to fight” for his team, Bennett said.
Near the midpoint of the second half, Duke (18-3, 6-3) led 46-42, and many of its fans assumed the Cavaliers would fade, as so many opponents have at Cameron over the years.
It didn’t happen. Virginia regained the lead, at 53-51, on a deep 3-pointer by Jerome with 6:36 to play. Duke tied the game, but baskets by redshirt freshman De’Andre Hunter and fifth-year senior Devon Hall put the ‘Hoos ahead 57-53.
A Guy trey with 3:17 to play gave the Cavaliers a five-point lead, but Duke rallied again, and it was 60-58 when Jerome leaped to intercept a long pass intended for Carter.
‘He looked like a free safety going across the middle and coming down and grabbing that one,” Bennett said.
Jerome, who finished with 13 points, seven assists and three steals, wasn’t done. With 37 seconds left, after a slick ball fake, he bombed in an NBA-length 3-pointer to make it 63-58.
“That was huge,” Bennett said. “We needed that.”
The final 30 seconds were more dramatic than necessary, as first Guy and then Jerome, who to that point was perfect from the line this season, missed the front end of a one-and-one. But Guy redeemed himself with 6.1 seconds left, as the Cameron Crazies stood in stunned silence.
“Last couple times we’ve been here, it’s come down to the wire,” Bennett said, “and so it felt good to get it the way we did.”
The Blue Devils came in leading the nation in scoring, at 91.7 points per game. Against the nation’s best defense, they scored a season-low 22 points in the first half Saturday.
“Our guys have not been in a game like that, and it looked that way in the first half,” Krzyzewski said. “[The Cavaliers] made us not play well. The level of intensity and the high level of defense and offense that they play, I thought knocked us back.”
Virginia led 32-22 at the break. The ‘Hoos went up 13 on a Hall trey on the first possession of the second half, but then their offense grew stagnant against the zone defense to which Duke had switched.
“We just missed open shots,” Hall said. “We had great looks.”
The Blue Devils, meanwhile, found their rhythm on offense, and they tied the game at 39-39 with a five-point possession.
“I was just trying to tell our guys, ‘If we can just make a look, it’ll maybe open it up a little bit, and then keep guarding your heart out,’ ” Bennett said. “And we weren’t perfect defensively, but we tried to play as hard as we could and be as sound as we could in that situation.”
The Cavaliers shot only 35.1 percent from the floor in the second half, but in the final 12:08 they got baskets from Hunter, Hall, Jerome, Guy, redshirt junior center Jack Salt and redshirt sophomore forward Mamadi Diakite.
“Different guys at different times,” Bennett said. “They’re a team that’s a joy to coach, because they’re pretty clear on who they are, and it doesn’t matter who’s getting shots or who’s doing what, and I hope that will remain.”
On an afternoon when its best big man, 6-7 senior Isaiah Wilkins, got in early foul trouble and finished with no points and one rebound, Virginia found a way to win anyway.
With 17 points, Guy led four Cavaliers in double figures. Hall scored 14, Jerome had 13. and Hunter contributed 12 in 24 minutes off the bench. Hunter might have scored more had he not sprained his right ankle while converting a layup that put Virginia up 55-53.
Hunter sat out the final 4:55. “It hurts a little bit,” he said, “but I should be fine.”
For Guy, Jerome, Diakite and Hunter, Saturday marked the first time they’d played against Duke at Cameron. None suffered from stage fright.
“It’s just basketball, at the end of the day,” said the 6-7 Hunter, who didn’t hesitate to attack the 6-11 Bagley off the dribble, with success.
“That’s who he is now, and I’m happy he’s back in his element,” Jerome said of Hunter. “I think a shot that might be forgotten is the little stepback [jumper] he hit when they were on a big run and we got it to him in the middle [of the zone] and he calmed everything down.”
That basket by Hunter cut Duke’s lead to 46-44, and on their next possession the Cavaliers pulled even on a Diakite stickback.
When he talked to his players, Bennett said, the “message was, ‘You’re not going to be perfect in this game. You don’t even have to be great. But you’re going to have to be pretty good throughout the entire game,’ and I think we did that.”
This is Bennett’s ninth season at UVA. Until Saturday, he had won at every ACC arena except Cameron.
“I’m thankful,” Bennett said. “I really am. This is the gold standard, what Duke’s done, but we’re in a race here. We’re just trying to get better, and that’s the way you do it. You just kind of take it one at a time. At some point maybe I’ll say I’m glad at one point in my career I won at Duke. Hopefully I’ll get another chance to do it again.”
The ‘Hoos, who began the season unranked, are a case of “the whole being greater than the sum of the parts,” Bennett said. “I think that’s so big. Because we have really good parts, and there’s talent, and I don’t think our players sometimes get enough credit for their talent. But there is a synergy, or a chemistry, that when they’re right is making them even better.”
THEY SAID IT: Their victory Saturday moved the ‘Hoos to 9-0 in ACC play for the first time since 1980-81, when Ralph Sampson ruled college basketball. Among the postgame comments from both sides:
* Jerome on his first game at Cameron: “It’s a huge stage, and I embraced it. I enjoyed it. I looked around, and then when it was time to play, I got locked in.”
* Guy on his team’s breakthrough: “We were born for this and built for this, and this is what we worked for. That was going through my mind [in the final seconds].”
* Duke guard Trevon Duval on his long pass that Jerome intercepted with 1:02 left: “I saw it for a split second, [Carter] was open, and then I remember that as soon as it was on my fingertips [I thought], ‘Man, I shouldn’t have thrown that pass.’ Because they all get back fast on defense right away. That pass really didn’t have a chance.”
* Krzyzewski on Duval’s turnover: “It was a big play, but that didn’t lose the game for us. We missed some free throws and then they got a couple big offensive rebounds and then Jerome hit a really big shot for them, which he has. Look, they’re really good. You do a little bit wrong and they can punish you for it, and they did.”
* Duke guard Grayson Allen on Jerome’s late 3-pointer: “That’s a very confident guy, and we saw on film [that] he makes huge plays for them. He does that often, so you really can’t be surprised by it.”
WHAT’S NEXT? Virginia, 13-0 at home this season, hosts Louisville (16-5, 6-2) at John Paul Jones Arena on Wednesday. ESPN2 will televise the 7 p.m. game.
Then come back-to-back road games for the Cavaliers, who play at Syracuse next Saturday and at Florida State on Wednesday, Feb. 7.
UVA has won four straight over Louisville and leads the series 10-4. The Cardinals whipped visiting Wake Forest 96-77 on Saturday night.
A limited number of tickets remain for the Louisville game. Click here to purchase tickets.