The Virginia basketball program has allowed opponents to shoot 50% or better 44 times in the Tony Bennett era. No one appears on that list more than ACC nemesis Duke, which has hit that line six times. The Hoos have lost all six of those games, including Saturday night’s 66-65 setback in Durham.
The Blue Devils shot 51% in the victory and that handed the Cavaliers their second road loss of the week after getting thrashed at Florida State, who also hit 50% of its shots in a Monday win. The Seminoles have now the fewest losses in the ACC with only two, though they’ve played fewer games following an early COVID related pause.
“I didn’t like our first half, for the most part, offensively we got good looks. I thought defensively, I don’t know, at times, we have to be so good in the important areas,” Bennett said. ”… That [defensive effort] has to be the moment that ball tips. We were back more in the second half in transition. The first half, there’s just were some breakdowns that are going to happen, but those in tight games you can’t afford, and I think it was pretty easy for them to score on us in the first half. Then we were better in the second half but keep fighting. I said it after Florida State, ‘All right, you hit some adversity, what are we going to learn and grow, are we going to grow from it and be ready to play, ready to practice on Monday, ready to play on Wednesday.’”
Duke’s first half did break down the UVA defense. The hosts put up 39 points on 56% shooting overall (14-25), which included 58.3% shooting (7-12) from 3-point range. Virginia committed 7 turnovers in the first half, which helped lead to some fastbreak success. The Blue Devils cooled off from downtown in the second half (18.2%, 2-11), but they remained hot otherwise as they made 10 of 15 shots inside the arc (66.7%).
That included a pull-up jumper from DJ Steward with 2:41 remaining to pull Duke to within one point at 65-64 and a driving reverse layup from Jaemyn Brakefield for the lead at 1:59. Steward had 9 points, while Brakefield finished with 11. Jeremy Roach scored 12 points too, while Wendell Moore Jr. and Jordan Goldwire dished out 7 and 4 assists respectively despite scoring just 4 points each.
None of that was as impressive as Matthew Hurt’s scoring line as he recorded 22 points on 8-13 shooting (61.5%). That included a 3-5 night on 2’s (60%) and a 5-8 night from 3-point range (62.5%). Virginia didn’t really have an answer for the 6’9” forward as he scored on varying matchups. That type of player has caused issues for this year’s defense multiple times this season.
“We’ve talked about this, Hurt can shoot,” Bennett said. “We were kind of there, and they were tough shots, but in the second half we were really there, and he still hit a couple, but he didn’t hit as many. ”
“Duke played great tonight,” Virginia’s Sam Hauser said. “They kicked our butts in the first half for sure. And they made timely plays and winning plays at the right time. Hats off to them they played well tonight.”
UVA produced solid offensive numbers too. Hauser, Jay Huff, and Kihei Clark all landed in double figures. Huff led the way with 20 points on 9-15 shooting without a triple in the mix and added 12 rebounds to match his career high. He also added 2 blocked shots and 1 assist. Hauser, meanwhile, had 19 points on 7-11 shooting with 8 rebounds and 3 assists. Clark finished with 15 points on 5-15 shooting with 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists. Trey Murphy III had 4 points on 2-2 shooting, while Casey Morsell came off the bench for 7 points on 3-8 shooting.
The visitors shot 26-52 overall (50%) and 5-11 from 3- point range (45.5%). The first half featured 60% shooting (15-25 overall, 3-5 from 3) for the Hoos, but that fell way off after intermission. They made 40.7% overall (11-27) and 33.3% from 3 (2-6) in the second half.
Some late issues offensively contributed to the loss. The Wahoos missed their final five shots, including several difficult looks on the final three possessions. Morsell missed a long pull-up jumper trying to shoot over Hurt with 1:36 to go. Hauser missed an off-balance 3-pointer in the corner and Clark missed a floater on the same possession after an offensive rebound from Huff. Clark also missed a desperation 3-pointer just before time expired as Hurt partially blocked the attempt.
On that final attempt, Virginia had fouled Steward to put him on the line for a 1-and-1 free throw situation and he missed with less 10 seconds remaining. The Cavaliers advanced the ball without a timeout and Clark brought it across halfcourt. He used a ball screen that brushed by his defender and led to Hurt switching on the play. Clark then pulled back a dribble between his legs and lost control before attempting the tough final look.
“The last play, they missed that free throw, it was broken, and we were like, ‘if they miss it attack, get to the rim.’ We were in the bonus and I was hoping we could get into the lane, and either get one up and rebound, flip it to Sam or someone trailing,” Bennett said. “No, we didn’t get great [shots late], they stepped up their defense. It comes down a lot of times to making plays late. You have to be able to bounce up, hit a shot. Casey missed that separate shot, he had Hurt on him. He hit a couple of those, I think that was an okay shot. They just were skin-tight, and there wasn’t a, I’ll look at the film, I wish we could have gotten a couple better looks and cleaned up some of the turnovers or the blocked shots. There’s just sometimes it’s drawing and kicking and making the decision. But to not score last few minutes was tough. I thought Jay, when he got the rebound, I thought there was one where he could have gone back up. I think he kicked it out. Because shots were hard to come by late.”
The Cavaliers have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season and that dropped them to 15-5 overall and 11-3 in the ACC. FSU has the edge in the loss column at 9-2 in the conference. The Wahoos have two home games on the schedule next with NC State on Wednesday and Miami on Saturday before a trip to Louisville.
Virginia will try to get back on track in those games before postseason play arrives.
“You basically put words in my mouth there, but ‘Welcome to the ACC’. I mean, that is what it is here,” Huff said. “It’s always been that way. Florida state’s always been that type of team that can give anybody a game, same with Duke. They’ve made some changes this year and they made some changes to the way they played us last year even, they definitely switched a lot more. So it’s just, the ACC is like that and I think that we can get back on track, and we’ll be fine.”