By Jeff White (

DURHAM, N.C. — For the University of Virginia men’s basketball team, the regular season ends next weekend with a game whose importance has increased markedly.

Had the Cavaliers knocked off No. 10 Duke on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, they’d be virtual locks for the NCAA tournament. They never threatened the Blue Devils, however, and their 73-48 loss leaves them with work to do as postseason approaches.

“We’re fighting for our lives right now,” sophomore forward Ryan Dunn said outside Virginia’s locker room.

The Wahoos (21-9 overall, 12-7 ACC) have one regular-season game left. At 8 p.m. next Saturday, they host Georgia Tech (13-16, 6-12) at John Paul Jones Arena. The Hoos, who remain third in the ACC standings, are 14-2 at home this season.

Virginia rallied to beat Georgia Tech 75-66 in Atlanta on Jan. 20. To put itself in position for an at-large bid to the NCAAs, UVA might have to beat the Yellow Jackets again and then win at least one game in the ACC tournament.

“It’s gonna be a tough battle and Georgia Tech is a good team, but it’s what we need to do,” Dunn said.

For the Cavaliers, this has been a season marked by uncharacteristic one-sided defeats. Of Virginia’s nine losses, seven have been by at least 16 points. Still, the Hoos have bounced back before, and their challenge is to do that again.

“We’re fighting like crazy to try to finish as high as we can in the conference, get the best seed we can, fight for an NCAA tournament berth,” head coach Tony Bennett said. “All that stuff matters. And so as crappy as I feel right now, we’re still playing meaningful games. This team still has [a solid body of work]. So I look at that and say, ‘OK, keep trying to build on it.’ And I will, and they better, keep swinging until the last tick on the clock for that thing. We have to  … This happened at Virginia Tech. It happened a few times. So you just come together. It’s humbling, but you get back after it and push hard.”

Isaac McKneely

This was the Hoos’ first visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium since Feb. 7, 2022, when they stunned the No. 7 Blue Devils 69-68 on a last-second 3-pointer by guard Reece Beekman.

Now a senior, Beekman is the only current Cavalier who’d played in a game at Cameron before Saturday night, and “it kind of looked like it was a bit much at times for [the rest of the team],” Bennett said.

Beekman led the Hoos with 18 points and had a game-high seven assists. He also came up with three steals to become UVA’s all-time leader in that category, with 223.

“He’s doing everything he can,” Bennett said.

The other Cavaliers combined for only 30 points. Sophomore guard Isaac McKneely scored 12, and Dunn added nine.

With a lineup that includes 7-foot Kyle Filipowski and 6-foot-9 Mark Mitchell, the Devils are imposing defensively in the frontcourt, and on the perimeter “they’re denying me and making it hard for me to get catches,” McKneely said. “They’ve just got some athletes it’s hard to score against.”

For the fourth time in its past five games, UVA failed to reach the 50-point mark. The Hoos shot 23.1 percent from the floor in the first half and stayed below 40 percent in the second. But if their Hoos’ offense was ineffective, their defense might have been worse Saturday night.

Duke (23-6, 14-4) made 14 of its first 18 shots from the floor and shot 58.6 percent from the floor in the opening half—exactly the kind of start Virginia wanted to avoid.

The coaching staff’s message going into the game, McKneely said, was that the “first four minutes are very important. We can’t let the crowd get into it too much, and we did. We did the opposite. Got down early, let the crowd get into it.”

In front of a capacity crowd that was in full voice long before the opening tip, the Blue Devils led by 25 points with four minutes left in the first half. They went into intermission up 40-18.

“There’s not much to say,” Bennett said. “They pretty much got what they wanted in the first half. It was a mismatch.”

Ryan Dunn

The Devils have five players averaging at least 10 points per game. UVA has only two—Beekman (14.1 ppg) and McKneely (12.2)—and to stay connected to Duke, the Hoos needed to play stellar defense. But they broke down repeatedly at that end of the court, and the game got away from them almost immediately.

“This has happened to us a few times this year,” Bennett said. “If our defense isn’t sound and right and we’re playing a team with the firepower of, certainly, Duke, it can get separated quick, and we’ve had a few games where we’ve gotten beat handily, and that’s a humbling place to be. And so you know that going in and you work at it and you try to prepare as well as you can, but they got the ball in the lane, down the floor, on the glass, every which way.”

Filipowski, who led all scorers with 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting, overpowered UVA centers Jordan Minor and Blake Buchanan. The 6-foot-8 Dunn, who blocked five shots, had more success guarding Filipowski in the second half, but it was a difficult match-up for the Cavaliers.

“He’s such a good player,” Dunn said. “I love Flip, but playing against him is a competition. I was just trying to use my speed and my size, just my length, to contest his shots.”

Dunn grew up seeing Cameron on TV, and he enjoyed his first taste of that frenzied atmosphere. He wasn’t pleased, though, with how the Cavaliers competed. “We were a little bit rocked in the first half. They came out, they played well. We were a little bit shaken up offensively and defensively, and that can’t happen now. We can’t get off to those slow starts like we did earlier in the year.”

The Hoos have one more opportunity to get it right before postseason play begins.

“It’s gonna take everybody,” Dunn said. “Everyone has to do their job, do their role.”

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