By Jeff White (email@example.com)
DURHAM, N.C.– For about six hours Saturday, after Michigan lost at Wisconsin in the early afternoon, there was only one unbeaten team in Division I men’s basketball, and that was Virginia.
Had the Cavaliers been a little sharper Saturday night, they might well have maintained that status – and won for the second straight year in storied Cameron Indoor Stadium. But in a rare matchup between top-ranked teams, Duke capitalized on UVA’s uncharacteristic breakdowns and prevailed 72-70 before a frenzied sellout crowd at Cameron and an ESPN audience.
“That’s a big-time game,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They don’t get much better than that … Every possession was high-level.”
Virginia came in ranked No. 4 in The Associated Press poll and No. 1 in the coaches’ poll. The Blue Devils are ranked No. 1 by the AP and No. 2 by the coaches, and the game was as fiercely contested as expected.
In the second half alone, there were 12 lead changes. But Duke (15-2 overall, 4-1 ACC) went ahead to stay with 7:28 left on a drive by freshman RJ Barrett. The Wahoos (16-1, 4-1) battled to the end, but their lapses, especially on defense, proved costly.
The Blue Devils shot 63.2 percent from the floor in the second half. For the game, they had 10 offensive rebounds and 13 second-chance points, to seven and eight for Virginia.
“I told our guys in the locker room, it wasn’t our effort,” UVA head coach Tony Bennett said. “It was just enough possessions where we were a bit unsound. We didn’t get a block out or we reached on the ball or had a careless turnover. To beat a team like Duke in this setting, you’ve got to be at an A or an A-minus in those areas. We were a little unsound.”
For the game, UVA outshot Duke from the floor, 52.8 percent to 51 percent. But Virginia’s inability to keep the 6-7, 202-pound Barrett and his 6-7, 285-pound classmate, Zion Williamson, out of the lane led to one free throw after another for the Blue Devils. Duke struggled from the line, making only 18 for 31 attempts, but its 72 points were the most UVA has allowed this season.
Moreover, Duke had 15 fast-break points, the most the Cavaliers have given up this season.
“We’re a solid defensive team, but tonight we were not solid enough,” Bennett said. “and that hurts. Large credit [goes to Duke’s] play and their ability, but we have to be better in that setting, I believe.”
Two players – Barrett (30) and Williamson (27) – accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Blue Devils’ points. Between them, they shot 25 free throws.
“They’re easily one of the best tandems I’ve ever played against,” Virginia junior Kyle Guy said.
“It was kind of tough keeping them out of the paint,” Virginia redshirt sophomore De’Andre Hunter. “Our defense wasn’t that great today, so they got a lot of open looks.”
For the first time this season, Virginia trailed at the half. But the Cavaliers steadily erased that five-point deficit and, with 14:00, took their first lead of the second half (43-42) on two free throws by junior forward Braxton Key.
That started a memorable back and forth that continued until the ‘Hoos hit a lull in the final five minutes. After Hunter’s basket cut Duke’s lead to 61-60 with 4:25, the Cavaliers didn’t make another field goal until 37 seconds remained.
“They’ve got real talented players, but we had that game,” UVA junior Ty Jerome said. “We lost it. We made mistakes that we can control.”
Guy said: “We’re probably going to be frustrated watching the film, just because as good as they played and as bad as we played, it was our game to lose, and we did.”
Coming off an overtime loss to Syracuse at Cameron, Duke played without its superlative freshman point guard, Tre Jones, who hurt his shoulder in that game.
“He told me I was going to have to take over the point and just play my game,” Barrett said of his pregame conversation with Jones.
Four players scored in double figures for Virginia: Hunter (18 points), Guy (14), Jerome (14) and Key (11). Hunter closed the scoring with a jumper as time expired.
Inside the arc, the Cavaliers were almost impossible to stop, making 25 of 36 shots (69.4 percent). From 3-point range, though, the ‘Hoos were only 3 of 17.
“I think we need to find ways to win even when our [perimeter] shots aren’t going in,” Guy said. “I think there’s a lot of shots we wish we could take back, but we’ll learn from this game.”
In its previous three games, UVA had shot a combined 31 of 66 from beyond the arc. In its win Tuesday night over Virginia Tech at John Paul Jones Arena, Virginia was 10 for 14 from long range in the first half.
Still, shooting “can kind of come and go,” Bennett said, “and that’s where your soundness defensively, defensive rebounding, taking care of the ball, has to be at a high level, and it wasn’t enough to be where we needed to [against Duke].”
Guy, who came in shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range, was 2 for 7 from beyond the arc at Cameron. With 2:40 left, he missed an open look from the left wing that would have tied the game at 63-63. Given a reprieve, Duke scored six of the next seven points, and Virginia never recovered.
“That’s one of the ones I wish I could take back,” Guy said. “It felt great. It just didn’t go my way.”
The loss ended UVA’s run of 12 consecutive ACC road wins, the fourth-longest such streak in league history.
“We’ll grow from it,” Bennett said.
Guy said: “We’ll be just fine. We’ll bounce back from this.”
ROUND TWO: Standing between UVA and its rematch with Duke are four games that will have the full attention of Bennett and Co. But there’s no question the Cavaliers are looking forward to the Devils’ Feb. 9 visit to Charlottesville.
“I can’t wait,” Jerome said. “I hate losing. Any time I lose I want to play somebody again.”
Krzyzewski said: “We’ll have a hell of a game when we play them up there.”
SPARK: In six minutes and 39 seconds off the bench, 7-1 redshirt sophomore Jay Huff contributed four points, two blocked shots and one rebound for the Cavaliers.
Huff, who graduated from Voyager Academy in Durham, had two dunks in a span of 40 seconds in the first half. One of his blocks came at the expense of Williamson, who’s likely to be the first player selected in the next NBA draft.
NEW TACTIC: On defense, Duke chose to switch on ball screens, no matter what matchup that created, a strategy that proved effective against one of the ACC’s top 3-point shooting teams.
“We haven’t really done that,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s something the last couple of days that we’ve done. We felt that we could not defend [the Cavaliers’] baseline floppy curls. They’re so good.
“Guy is the closest that I’ve seen to J.J. [Redick] in league. Not saying he’s J.J., but he’s close. A lot of people can shoot turning, but [Guy] can hit turning. So we just said, we’re going to try to limit their open 3s, and we did a really good job of that with the switching.”
THEY SAID IT: Coming into the game, UVA had won nine straight against ranked opponents, a streak that started last season. Among the postgame comments Saturday night:
* Jerome: “I thought we had too many breakdowns. They touched our paint too much. We gambled a lot, myself included. We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds, missed some shots that we normally make, but we’ll see them again at home, so that’s the good news.”
* Hunter on areas the ‘Hoos need to clean up: “Rebounding. We had some careless turnovers. Getting back on defense. The things we usually do, we kind of had trouble sometimes doing tonight, but we fought. We’ll take the loss, and we’ll just learn from it.”
* Bennett on his team’s accuracy on two-point field goals: “That’s what was available. There wasn’t a whole lot [on the perimeter] … But we were trying a lot of different things, and we did get to the paint and got some plays. Guys did a good job finishing, for the most part.”
* Jerome on the size of Duke, which didn’t play anyone shorter than 6-6: “We gotta do a better job the next time we play them of keeping them out of the paint.”
* Jerome: “We’ll learn from wins or losses. Whether we won that game by two or lost that game by two, we’ll go through the film the same way and learn from it. It’ll just feel better coming off a win.”
WHAT’S NEXT: The Cavaliers, in the midst of a seven-game stretch that includes five road games, are back home Tuesday night. At 9 o’clock, UVA (16-1, 4-1) meets Wake Forest (8-9, 1-4) at JPJ.
UVA has won six straight over Wake, which lost Saturday to Virginia Tech.