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Men's basketball drops nail-biter to Cavaliers, 64-58

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.--The men's basketball team was searching for redemption Wednesday night against the Virginia Cavaliers. What it got was another disappointing loss.

Duke's offense disappeared for a crucial stretch in its game against Virginia, which had battled back from 23 points down to beat Duke in a double-overtime thriller at Cameron Indoor Stadium last month. And despite excellent defensive play near the end of the game, the Blue Devils lost another close one, 64-58, at University Hall.

"We had a couple of times where our offense just fell apart and that really hurt us," said senior center Erik Meek.

Duke (11-13, 1-11 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) continues to extend its school-record worst start in the conference. The Cavaliers improved to 17-6, 9-3 in the ACC.

Midway through the second half Wednesday night, the Blue Devils seemed to be regaining momentum. A three-pointer from Virginia freshman Curtis Staples, his fifth of the game, had given Virginia its largest lead, 57-46, with slightly more than 10 minutes left in the game.

But 20 seconds later, Duke senior Cherokee Parks slammed home an alley-oop from Meek to pull the Blue Devils within nine. After both teams traded possessions, Meek scored on an inside layup and junior guard Chris Collins hit two free throws to make the score 57-52 with 6:54 left.

Over the next 5:23, Duke made many tremendous defensive plays to hold the Cavaliers to a mere two points. But Duke couldn't score at all.

Parks grabbed a rebound following a missed shot but missed the putback. Seldom-used reserve Carmen Wallace missed a 19-foot jumper and a layup on consecutive possessions. Parks travelled on a drive into the lane. Meek threw the ball away. Collins missed two free throws. Sophomore guard Jeff Capel missed another jumper.

By the time freshman Ricky Price hit a jumper to break the drought, only 1:46 remained in the game.

"Virginia was playing great defense, but we were coming out and taking quick shots," Capel said. "That really was frustrating, coming down and playing such good defense and then coming down on the offensive end and not getting a good shot or missing the shot."

Duke did make one last run, as Capel hit two jumpers in the lane sandwiched around two free-throws by Virginia's Harold Deane to make the score 61-58. But the Blue Devils did not score again.

These scoring slumps have happened all year: Against Michigan in December, Duke couldn't score for over eight minutes as the Wolverines scored 24 consecutive points. N.C. State used a similar second-half run to defeat Duke by 17 points last month.

But the Blue Devils have not solved the problem--it happened again Wednesday night.

"I think it's just chemistry," Meek said. "We have to make sure we play with each other and look for each other, and I think we've had trouble with that sometimes."

In the second half, Duke scored only 24 points on 11-of-29 shooting, including 0-of-7 from three point range.

The Blue Devils also got into foul trouble early in the half, further damaging their cause. Langdon had to go to the bench with 11:22 remaining after his fourth foul, the team's seventh foul of the half. Virginia had 14 free-throw attempts in the second half, hitting 11 of them. Duke only got to the line four times, converting two of them.

Duke shot only 41 percent for the game, while holding Virginia to a 37 percent clip. Parks registered a double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds, while Meek pulled down 12 rebounds.

Duke went into halftime with a 34-32 lead and held a four-point lead after a pair of jumpers by Parks. But Virginia responded with a 19-8 run to pull ahead for good.

"It's those stretches in the games that are killing us," said freshman Trajan Langdon, who has yet to see his team win a conference game on the road.

Virginia started its run with layups by forwards Jamal Robinson and Norman Nolan. Following another Duke miss, Virginia's Jason Williford slipped past a dozing Blue Devil defense for an easy fast-break slam dunk. Capel's touch foul sent Williford to the line and gave Virginia a 42-38 lead.

Duke tried to hang close, helped by a tremendous follow dunk by sophomore Greg Newton, who poured in eight points, and a sweet jump hook in heavy traffic in the lane by Langdon.

But Virginia soon pulled out to an 11-point lead, and the Blue Devils couldn't get close enough to tie the rest of the way.

The second half was a direct reversal from the first half, when the Blue Devils had led by as many as six points.

"If we'd played the way we did in the first half in the second half we would have won the game," Langdon said.

The Blue Devils went ahead 30-24 with less than three minutes remaining thanks to balanced scoring. Capel scored eight, including two baskets from three-point range, while Parks poured in seven points to go along with his six rebounds.

Virginia's Curtis Staples, who was 9-of-12 from three-point range against UNLV on Sunday, hit two consecutive treys to tie the game. Newton slammed the ball just before the end of the half to give Duke a two-point halftime margin.

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