The Virginia and Duke basketball game Saturday night was billed as a prize fight rematch after the two top five teams dueled to a two-point UVA loss last month. If a heavyweight fight was the comparison of choice, then the Blue Devils landed an early combination that didn’t deliver a knockout, but staggered the Hoos and they never caught up on the scoreboard. Duke won round two, 81-71, to sweep the season series.
The loss snapped Virginia’s 13-game winning streak at the John Paul Jones Arena and dropped the Cavaliers to 20-2 on the season. Both losses came against the Devils.
“As good as the game in Durham was, this was better,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.. “I thought both teams played outstanding basketball tonight. It was tough to single out a kid. We were fortunate we won. It’s the best we’ve shot from the three-point [line], and obviously, it’s a huge difference. They’re outstanding, and we’re really good too and it was that game. We feel very thankful that we won. I’m proud of my guys, but we beat a heck of a team, and they’re a great program. We’re just obviously very pleased.”
Indeed, the early one-two combo punch came behind the 3-point line for the Blue Devils and that sparked a hot shooting night overall for the visitors. RJ Barrett opened with a confident 3-pointer late in the shot clock on the first possession and added another just 18 seconds after Zion Williamson got a steal for a breakout dunk. That 8-0 start moved to an 11-4 edge when Williamson made a 3-pointer of his own and it was 17-9 when Cam Reddish and Barrett added two more triples in the game’s first six minutes.
The 5-5 start from behind the 3-point line eventually became an 8-of-11 shooting line in the first half (72.7%) and a 13-21 night overall from behind the arc (61.9%). Four of Duke’s starters made a 3-pointer and all four shot 50% or better in the game from downtown. Barrett led the barrage by making 6 of 10, while Reddish hit 5 of 8. That shooting performance dwarfed the Devils’ season-long 3-point shooting stat of 32%.
“I thought that we were a little slow to our closeouts,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said. “We really tried to keep [Duke] out of the lane and jam the lane. We probably over-corrected in terms of that. You have to read when is that guy okay on the ball and then leave and be there on the catch. I thought there were too many of those when we were staying a little long. … We were a little better in the second half, but not good enough.”
“I think we are a team that doesn’t get fazed very easily. Obviously when they hit five in a row and seven out of eight, it is hard because it is an uphill battle all game and I think that we just need to do what we do best and we will do better throughout the year,” Cavalier guard Kyle Guy said of the early deficit.
While the shooting display may or may not have stunned the Hoos, it certainly left them in unfamiliar territory. They entered the game leading the country in opponent 3-point shooting percentage at 24.7% allowed. As a result, the hosts trailed at the half for just the second time this season, though by that time they had whittled the deficit to four at 39-35. The other halftime deficit came in the loss at Duke.
Virginia continued to try to rally in the second half as well, but every time the margin closed, Duke had an answer.
With the lead at four 1:20 after intermission, Reddish hit another 3-pointer. With it at six again in the first four minutes, Barrett got an offensive rebound and scored. With it at five near the 12:00 mark, Tre Jones hit his only 3-pointer form the corner. With it at seven at the 7:36 mark following a Jack Salt dunk, Barrett nailed one of his triples. With the lead at five again after De’Andre Hunter canned a 3-pointer out of a timeout, Marques Bolden scored in the paint. With it at seven thanks to a Jay Huff 3-pointer with 2:25 to go, Williamson responded with a dunk.
In other words, different guys provided points at important times for the Devils. That led to a balanced scoring attack. Barrett led all scorers with 26 points to go with 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Williamson added 18 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocked shots, and 3 steals. Reddish tallied 17 points, 3 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocked shots while Jones posted 13 points and 7 assists.
Duke shot 57.8% for the game, the best vs. Virginia since Washington shot 58 percent on Nov. 22, 2010. The 13 made 3-pointers were the most since Pitt hit the same number on Jan. 4, 2017.
“I thought RJ has played outstanding, but he’s been disappointed,” Krzyzewski said. “He wants to be great. He really had unbelievable preparation for this game, and you could see right away that he was lathered up. He got us off to such a good start, and Cam is really playing well. He hit his. When we moved the ball and got them to move a little bit, sometimes we got some open shots.”
Virginia finished shooting 46.7% (28 of 60) and 41.7% from 3-point range (10 of 24) as it tried to navigate a comeback. Guy and Ty Jerome led the way with 16 points each. Guy made 6 of 15 shots for his 16 points to go with 3 assists and 5 turnovers. Jerome made 6 of 11 shots for his 16 points to go with 4 assists, 3 steals, and 3 turnovers. Hunter made 4 of 9 shots for 11 points to go with 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 blocked shot. Huff chipped in 8 points, while Braxton Key had 4 points and 10 rebounds. Mamadi Diakite had 7 points early with 10 first-half minutes, but he left the game and did not return after colliding with Hunter on a handoff play.
Those numbers weren’t enough to keep up, though, thanks to some uncharacteristic issues that offset the offense. UVA committed 14 turnovers and that led to 17 Duke points. The Hoos also gave up some untimely offensive rebounds so while Duke grabbed just 8, it led to 14 second-chance points.
Throw in the fact that Virginia couldn’t get to the free throw line (5 of 7 on the night), lost some toss-up plays on loose balls, and missed some opportunities on shots at the rim and it was too much to overcome against one of the nation’s top teams.
“I told our guys after [the game], for us to beat a team like Duke and the way they’re playing, we are going to have to play a cleaner game in a few areas,” Bennett said. “[Duke] was quicker to the ball, they are terrific athletes, strong-handed, they snatched some out of our hands, some loose turnovers that led to the breakaways and then a couple careless ones here and there. You can’t beat a team like Duke, especially when they are shooting at that clip, whether we were too long in the gaps or not, without playing a really sounder, cleaner game. …. We had some chances to be in there but, not enough. My hat goes off to a team that played very well today.”