Duke falters, fails to capitalize in 52-50 defeat at Virginia

·3 min read

For many years now under head coach Tony Bennett, Virginia has had a way of making some of the nation’s best college basketball offenses look like anemic, listless shells of themselves. The Cavaliers have so perfected the art of forcing sports cars to run like golf carts that it long ago ceased being surprising.

And so it was here on Saturday, against Duke. The Blue Devils arrived at John Paul Jones Arena with the ACC’s most potent offense. They were averaging more than 83 points per game, the most among any team in the conference. They left, as so many teams have over the years, humbled and flustered after a 52-50 defeat, one that wasn’t decided until the final moment.

The No. 7 Blue Devils (23-6, 13-5) had two chances in the final 10 seconds to take the lead. They had one final chance, as time expired, to win. Instead, Tre Jones, the Duke sophomore point guard, missed a desperation, running 30-footer as time expired. Jones’ attempt, which bounced off of the right side of the rim, came after Duke began its final possession with 3.7 seconds remaining.

Like so many other games between Virginia (21-7, 13-5) and more powerful offensive teams, this game quickly devolved, as Cavaliers games are so often described, into a rock fight -- a battle of wills, marathon possessions and defensive strength. Duke matched Virginia’s intensity, and its defensive fortitude, but still finished one successful possession away.

Duke lost for the third time in its past four games. Unlike the two preceding defeats, though -- a 22-point loss at N.C. State, and one by 12 at Wake Forest -- Mike Krzyzewski found no fault in his team’s effort on Saturday. He instead spoke with pride about the Blue Devils’ performance, and appeared pleased by just about everything with the exception of the final score.

“The effort was astronomically better, because there was an effort,” Krzyzewski said afterward, asked to compare that part of the game to the effort at N.C. State and Wake Forest. “Our guys played hard, man. I’m proud of my guys.”

Duke’s effort could not help it make shots, however. The Blue Devils, led by 17 points apiece from Jones and Vernon Carey, the freshman forward, made 30.5 percent of their attempts from the field. They made but two shots from the field during final eight minutes -- a stretch that mirrored an equally ineffective final eight minutes of the first half.

The Blue Devils’ costliest empty possession came on their second-to-last possession of the game. That was then Jones passed to Carey, near the basket. Carey was open, for the briefest of moments, before the Cavaliers surrounded him. He went up for a layup attempt that, had it been successful, would’ve given Duke a 52-51 lead.

Virginia’s Jay Huff (30) reacts as time expires and the Cavaliers relish in their 52-50 victory over Duke on Saturday, February 29, 2020 at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Va. Huff lead Virginia with 15 points.
Virginia’s Jay Huff (30) reacts as time expires and the Cavaliers relish in their 52-50 victory over Duke on Saturday, February 29, 2020 at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Va. Huff lead Virginia with 15 points.

Instead, Jay Huff, the Cavaliers’ 7-foot-1 junior forward, blocked the shot. It was Huff’s 10th, and final, blocked shot of the game. After the block, Carey fouled Huff, and Huff then made of his two free throw attempts to give the Cavaliers the two-point lead with 3.7 seconds remaining.

“They made a great play to stop a winning basket,” Krzyzewski said. “I mean, that’s how close the game is.”

In addition to the shots he blocked, Huff, a native of Durham, also energized the crowd at John Paul Jones with several dunks. He executed one with his back to the rim, and two more during the span of about a minute in the first half -- one of them coming on an alley-oop that brought the crowd to its feet. Huff finished with a team-high 15 points.

For Duke, meanwhile, the defeat was especially costly. The Blue Devils entered Saturday with an opportunity to move into a three-way tie for first place atop the ACC standings. Instead the Blue Devils left Charlottesville the same way so many other teams in recent years have -- with fewer points and more frustration than they’re accustomed to experiencing.