Coach Tony Bennett is feeling the frustration as his team struggles on offense.
The Duke Blue Devils certainly didn’t play like the No. 5 team in the nation on Wednesday night, but luckily for head coach Mike Krzyzewski, they didn’t have to. Tony Bennett’s cold-shooting Cavaliers just couldn’t find the net, and set a record-low point total in John Paul Jones Arena for the second time this season. Duke was also held to their low score of the season, but still managed to take home a 56-41 win, a score that closely resembled that of the Virginia-Duke football game last fall.
“Let’s call it what it is: you’ve got to be able to make some baskets, you’ve got to be able to make some shots,” Bennett said. “I thought there was a stretch in the second half where we got some good looks and the ball just wouldn’t go in. You can’t be in a game if you’re shooting that percentage or struggling offensively like that.”
Virginia played a solid defensive game all evening, allowing just 18 shots in the second half and holding Blue Devil forward Kyle Singler to just two points on the night. However, in a turn of events strikingly similar to the Maryland game, in which the Hoos also had a record-low number of points, another opposing player had a marquee night when needed.
Nolan Smith had 22 points and seven rebounds, while only one other Blue Devil, Ryan Kelly , managed to score in double figures. Smith’s ability to make the crucial basket at the crucial time allowed him to be a difference-maker for Duke when Coach K’s squad was struggling.
“We won a defensive struggle tonight; points were hard to come by,” Krzyzewski said. “To get 22 points in a game like this, that’s a lot of points.”
It was a frustrating night all around for Virginia, particularly since the game wasn’t quite out of reach until late in the second half. The Hoos, relying heavily on outside shooting that simply wasn’t there, just couldn’t get the buckets to fall and scored a measly 15 points in the second half. The infuriating part was that Duke wasn’t much better; the Blue Devils were held to 22 points after intermission.
“You have to shoot a shot with confidence. Before the game, I said, ‘Listen, if you get a shot, shoot it with confidence,'” Bennett said. “A couple of times, I thought we didn’t shoot some that we should’ve caught and shot in rhythm. At least they battled defensively, but as I said, I was frustrated because I thought we could do better than that.”
The Cavaliers were outmuscled under the basket and out-rebounded by Duke all evening. The Blue Devils had a clear size advantage underneath and put their forwards to work collecting defensive boards and blocking shots. Virginia only managed nine offensive rebounds and had six shots blocked. Duke also managed to get UVa’s only real big man, center Assane Sene , into foul trouble early.
Ultimately, the Hoos lost the defensive chess match through their inability to hit the open shot and by taking rushed shots. Only one Virginia player, senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan , got into double figures. Many of the shots taken in the second half were hurried attempts; players weren’t setting their feet and squaring to the basket.
“I don’t think we were in panic mode, we were just really struggling to get a bucket,” freshman forward Akil Mitchell said. “Sometimes, jump shooters especially, we get into a mode where you just want to see something go down.”
Three-point shooting, which usually keeps the Cavaliers in close games, wasn’t an option due to the stifling Blue Devil defense. The Hoos were 3-12 from beyond the arc, and were forced to play inside the line against Duke’s larger post players. Staying outside and hitting shots just isn’t enough when the ball refuses to drop.
“When we get a little cold from the outside or we’re not hitting shots, it’s a struggle for us to score points,” Bennett said. “We try to get some if we get a guard rebound and can get some in transition. We try to get them by driving and kicking. But when the 3-point ball is off or if we can’t get more than three guys in double-figures, it becomes a real strain on us offensively.”
Mitchell put in a solid defensive effort, notching three early steals that got the JPJ crowd going; he pulled down five total rebounds. Fellow freshman Joe Harris , who had eight points on the night, sunk his 51st 3-pointer, moving him into second place behind UVa legend Curtis Staples for most 3’s by a freshman player. Harris has a long way to go to match Staples’ record 103 treys, though.