A struggling offense coupled with a terrific performance from one of Duke’s highly touted freshman proved too much for UVA to overcome Wednesday night, as the No. 14 Cavaliers fell to the No. 12 Blue Devils, 65-55, at John Paul Jones Arena. The defeat drops UVA to 18-7 overall this season and 8-5 in the ACC.
The game started off very well for head coach Tony Bennett’s squad, which was looking to rebound from a heartbreaking double-overtime defeat at Virginia Tech last Sunday. The Cavaliers raced out to a 9-2 lead in the first five minutes, making 4-of-8 shots in the process. Duke responded with a 10-0 run of its own and led 19-16 before the Hoos reeled off another 9-2 run to assume a 25-21 halftime lead.
Unfortunately for Virginia, second half woes that plagued the team in each of its previous three losses surfaced once again. UVA blew a 9-point advantage at halftime in a loss at Villanova, a 12-point lead in a loss at Syracuse, and a 14-point lead in Blacksburg last Sunday. All three of those opponents blitzed the Cavalier defense in the second half, with Villanova and Syracuse making over 70% of their field goals and Virginia Tech making 58.3% of its attempts.
Led by freshman phenom Jayson Tatum and senior Matt Jones, the Blue Devils answered UVA’s halftime lead with 12 points in the first three minutes. Virginia, meanwhile, scored just four points and turned the ball over twice in that same span. The Hoos steadied themselves, though, and cut the lead to one on two separate occasions with opportunities to take the lead. Virginia remained within striking distance before Tatum showed why he is a likely lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
The 6’8”, 205-pound freshman scored 11 points in the final 6:17, including back-to-back 3s that gave Duke a 54-44 lead with 1:58 remaining. Tatum finished with a game-high 28 points, 21 of which came in the second half. Although he had made just 31.7% of his 3-point attempts prior to the Virginia game, he burned the Hoos by making 6-of-7 from beyond the arc.
UVA’s defense performed well against potential ACC Player of the Year Luke Kennard, limiting the sophomore guard to 3-of-10 shooting from the field. He ended up with 16 points, nine of which came from the foul line. Thanks to Tatum’s 7-of-10 shooting, Duke made 57.1% of its field goals in the second half. The rest of the Blue Devils shot 45.5% in the second half.
Despite the loss, Coach Bennett was pleased with his team’s overall defensive performance.
“We actually flew around and I liked our scrappy defensive play,” Bennett said. “We did the job for the most part on Grayson Allen and on Luke Kennard. And then you saw a special performance by Jayson Tatum.”
UVA senior point guard London Perrantes was satisfied with his team’s defensive effort while acknowledging a complete effort on both ends of the court is needed moving forward.
“As weird as it sounds, I think this was one of our best defensive games,” Perrantes said. “There were just tough plays at the end of the game by Jayson Tatum. I really think that it was like a Virginia team a couple years ago where we were just putting it all on the line on the defensive end. Our old Virginia teams didn’t have much offense. We need to find a happy medium.”
Duke converted opportunities at the line, making 18-of-20 on the night. Virginia made all eight of its free throw attempts but struggled mightily from the field. Outside of the 4-of-8 start and a 5-of-6 shooting performance in the final two minutes of the second half, at which point UVA found itself down by 10, the Cavaliers shot a porous 27.9% (12-of-43) from the floor.
Perrantes led the Hoos with 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting (1-of-5 from 3) and freshman Ty Jerome scored 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting (2-of-4 from beyond the arc). Starters Devon Hall and Marial Shayok combined for 15 points while converting on only 7-of-21 shots. Redshirt freshman forward Mamadi Diakite provided a spark off the bench. He didn’t score but finished with 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 1 steal.
“I want to give credit to Duke — they really guarded us hard,” Bennett said. “It was one of those games where you had to work to get the catches. I think we had decent shots in terms of what we could get against them without being able to throw the ball inside and score. I thought we got to the elbows and had some opportunities at the rim, but we sometimes had a little trouble finishing. It was a good defensive Duke team tonight.”
The loss puts Virginia on the outside looking in in terms of being one of the top four seeds in the ACC Tournament. The Hoos have has five games remaining beginning this Saturday against North Carolina. UVA then hosts Miami on February 20, plays at struggling NC State on February 25, hosts UNC on February 27, and concludes the regular season with a home game against Pittsburgh.