With less than four minutes left and Duke trailing just 57-55, it played impressive zone defense for more than 20 seconds, eventually forcing Virginia sophomore Kyle Guy to throw up a wild airball from the short corner over Wendell Carter Jr.'s towering presence.

But Guy darted down the baseline, beating both Marvin Bagley III and Trevon Duval to the rebound and then having the presence of mind to launch a desperation turnaround 3-pointer as the shot clock expired, that hit the backboard and bounced hard off the rim. Once again, the Cavaliers outworked the Blue Devils for the rebound, as big man Jack Salt got his hand on the ball before Carter and tapped it back to Ty Jerome.

When the ball wound up in Guy's hands seconds later in the corner off a pass from Devon Hall, he didn't miss from deep again.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, Bagley and Duval all rejected the notion that fatigue played a role in the Blue Devils' loss after the game, but the missed rebounding opportunities, missed free throws and a careless late turnover were all characteristic of a team that looked like it ran out of steam. Duke did not make a substitution in the second half, and its bench played a combined six minutes in the entire game. 

Bagley, Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. each played all 40 minutes, and Carter and Duval only received three minutes of rest in two short spurts of the first half.

"If we want to win something really big, your best players have to play a lot of minutes, and I think that’s what the regular season is about, is preparing for March," Krzyzewski said. "Some of the rebounding, the plays were relentless for us. They were unbelievable. My guys played their hearts out. I feel bad for them, but it’s the way it is."

The Blue Devils made a long surge to rally from a 13-point deficit in the first 10 minutes of the second half, briefly snatching a four-point lead. Earlier this season, against Texas, Florida and Miami, that type of short burst of energy and execution was enough to erase similar deficits and win. But Virginia—probably the best team Duke has faced this season—refused to fold.

"They were really tough. For letting us come out that way in the second half, they didn’t let that knock them down," Duval said. "That was really good on their end."

With the Cavaliers on their heels, the visitors made a key adjustment to capitalize on a deeper rotation than that of the Blue Devils. Forward Isaiah Wilkins was ineffective offensively after the Blue Devils switched to a 2-3 zone defense, unable to knock down multiple wide-open jumpers from the hole in the zone at the elbow.

So Tony Bennett replaced Wilkins with dynamic 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman De'Andre Hunter, and his fresh legs almost singlehandedly stemmed the tide.

Hunter scored eight of Virginia's 13 points in a run that turned a four-point Cavalier deficit into a two-point lead, and after he went down with an apparent ankle injury following his last layup, Guy and Jerome each knocked down clutch 3-pointers to provide the rest of the offense Virginia needed. Guy, Jerome and Devon Hall were all workhorses in Virginia's backcourt who played most of the game as well, but the Cavaliers' single hidden weapon off the bench was one more than Duke had.

Javin DeLaurier and Alex O'Connell each played just three minutes for the Blue Devils, as Krzyzewski said DeLaurier had a tight hamstring again and O'Connell has been battling the flu. Marques Bolden was also not quite ready to return from his knee injury.

Part of the reason for Duke's switch to zone in the second half was so its starters wouldn't have to use as much energy during Virginia's long possessions. The fact that the Blue Devils played better in the zone was an added luxury.

"Part of them being good is they wear you out when you’re on defense in man-to-man, because you have to keep running after them," Krzyzewski said. "Their offense beat our defense, but they also wore us down, so our offense wasn’t as poised in the first half."

He felt that the defensive scheme minimized fatigue after the break, and maybe it was a coincidence that the Blue Devils missed four of their five free-throw attempts in the last 10 minutes, including three front ends of one-and-ones. Maybe Duval would have made that ill-fated length of the court pass into triple coverage when Duke trailed by just two points with a minute left even if he was more fresh. 

The intended target was Carter, but the ball never had a chance to get there, and Jerome knocked down a dagger 3-pointer after he intercepted the pass.

"I saw for a split-second, he was open," Duval said. "And then I remembered as soon as it was on my fingertips, like, ‘Damn, I shouldn’t have thrown that pass.’"

Carter and Bagley were all that was working for the Blue Devils on offense—Bagley had another titanic effort with 30 points and 14 rebounds—but two interior scoring threats are not enough to beat top-tier teams like the Cavaliers.

It is nearly impossible to succeed at any level of basketball with a five-man rotation, and Duke's reserves will need to get better and get healthy soon.