Duke almost pulled off another miracle. Except this time, it was not meant to be.
After Sean Singletary swished a falling-down floater with one second left in overtime to give Virginia a two-point lead, the Blue Devils still had time for some late-game heroics.
On the Blue Devils' final chance, Greg Paulus caught a pass on the left wing, shed his defender and took a set shot that looked like it was on its way in. But the ball clanged off the back iron as fans at John Paul Jones Arena exploded onto the court.
The Cavaliers (14-6, 6-2 in the ACC) improved to 11-1 in their new arena in handing No. 8 Duke (18-4, 5-3) its first loss in six games, 68-66.
"Both teams played their hearts out," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It's a great win for them and a really tough loss for us, but that's life in the ACC."
After a timeout with 17 seconds left, Virginia inbounded the ball to Singletary. A perimeter screen forced Josh McRoberts to switch onto the speedy Cavalier guard as time was winding down. On the right wing, Singletary used a head fake to get a step on the Duke forward. As he drove toward the basket, Duke's help-side defense came over to block the shot. Singletary pulled up on the block and as he was falling backwards threw up a high-arching shot over two Duke defenders that turned out to be the game winner.
"It was a crazy, tough shot," DeMarcus Nelson said. "We couldn't have made him take a tougher shot. He threw a shot up in desperation over two defenders."
Still, with one tick remaining, the Blue Devils had a chance at their third last-second victory in the past two seasons when McRoberts connected with Paulus on a baseball pass. The Virginia defender went for the steal, freeing the sophomore for an open look.
"I thought it was in," Paulus said. "As soon as I released it, it felt good. It felt like a normal jump shot, it just didn't go in."
For the final 8:42 of the game, that was a common theme for Duke-open looks that did not go through. McRoberts made the Blue Devils' last field goal with 3:42 remaining in regulation as he drove down the lane and was fouled by Jason Cain, putting the Blue Devils ahead, 59-51.
They missed their final eight field goal tries during the remainder of regulation and overtime and turned it over twice more in that span.
Down the stretch, Duke had trouble containing J.R. Reynolds, who finished the contest with a game-high 25 points. Despite dealing with leg cramps, Reynolds made a bank shot with 3:21 and then hit six consecutive free throws down the stretch. But McRoberts' two free throws at the 2:50 mark had Duke clinging to a 61-59 lead with less than a minute to go.
With a six-second differential between the shot clock and the game clock, Singletary pulled up for a jumper at the left elbow that knotted the score at 61 with 26 seconds to go.
Rather than call its final timeout, Duke elected to put the game in McRoberts' hands. He drove down the middle of the lane and had a good look at the basket, but his shot bounced off the rim, sending the game to overtime.
"We can't blame it on missed shots with that kind of lead," Paulus said. "We didn't get the job done defensively."
With 30.2 seconds remaining in overtime and the game tied at 66, Duke called a timeout to try to ensure a good shot on the critical possession. Jon Scheyer caught the inbounds pass in the left corner, but could not free himself for an open look. He had to force a shot that hit off the side of the backboard as the shot clock expired, setting up Singletary's final bucket.
"It was either going to be one of the two," Virginia head coach Dave Leitao said of choosing either Singletary or Reynolds on the decisive play. "We were going to win or lose with one of those two and we chose Sean. He's a big-time player especially in those situations."
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.