CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.—Wednesday night’s contest was exactly the kind of game Virginia likes to play. Neither team topped 25 first-half points, and the Cavaliers slowed the pace down to a near-glacial rate, taking possessions deep into the shot clock and ensuring that each offense would get only a limited number of chances to score.
But in the end, Duke made those possessions count and found a way to pull out its sixth straight win.
Led by a career-high 28 points and six 3-pointers from freshman Jayson Tatum, No. 12 Duke kept the ball rolling with a 65-55 victory against No. 14 Virginia at John Paul Jones Arena. Tatum knocked down 6-of-7 from behind the arc and poured in 21 points after halftime—including two dagger 3-pointers in the last three minutes—to help the visitors pull away.
“Jayson had one of those few minutes where it’s what separates ordinary players from outstanding players. There’s nothing about coaching there,” Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We want him to take the shots, but it was like four points and all of a sudden, it was 10…. His shots were bigger because it’s a one- or two-possession game and all of a sudden two [3-pointers] gave you about two or three more possessions.”
After trailing by four at halftime, Duke (21-5, 9-4 in the ACC) held on to a narrow lead for much of the second half, but a Kyle Guy 3-pointer near the eight-minute mark brought Virginia back within one and energized the home crowd.
The Cavaliers (18-7, 8-5) got several open looks coming out of the under-eight media timeout, but were unable to convert, and another 3-pointer from Tatum—who needed just 12 field goal attempts for his 28 points—as the shot clock ticked down put the Blue Devils back up by four with 6:15 left.
“[My teammates] told me to come get the ball late in the shot clock. They told me to go score,” Tatum said. “With that confidence from everybody and on the coaching staff, it just really helped me out. I’m grateful it went in.”
Even with graduate student Amile Jefferson playing with four fouls, Duke’s interior defense held strong in the closing minutes, denying Virginia several chances at offensive rebounds as it tried to make a comeback. Luke Kennard—who finished with 16 points thanks to a flurry of late free throws—dropped in a floater with just more than four minutes remaining to push the Blue Devil lead to 48-42 as the Cavalier scoring drought continued.
Virginia point guard London Perrantes—who was hounded all night by Matt Jones and shot just 4-of-11 from the field—answered with a step-back jumper and a steal heading into the under-four media timeout, giving his team life after a long stretch of listless offense. When the senior missed a jumper coming out of the timeout, Duke took advantage.
And once again, it was Tatum who did the damage, pulling up for an isolation triple to give the Blue Devils a 51-44 lead.
“You saw a special performance by Jayson Tatum. I watched the tape, I thought [Isaiah Wilkins] was for the most part there,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “It’s a talented team, obviously well-coached and very talented, but when we got those opportunities, we needed that because we weren’t very efficient.”
Tatum led Duke—which shot just 33.3 percent in the opening period—with seven first-half points, but came out firing in the second half and matched that number with a trio of buckets in the first three minutes. Combined with five points from Jones, the Blue Devils put up 12 points in the first four minutes—they scored just 21 in the previous 20—to retake the lead.
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Jefferson then picked up his fourth foul with more than 15 minutes left in the game, a rare ineffective outing from Duke’s most experienced froncourt player.
That forced Harry Giles—who had not topped 20 minutes since early January—into major minutes at the five spot, and the freshman responded with great activity on defense in 18 minutes. The Winston-Salem, N.C., native dove on the floor for a pair of steals immediately following Jefferson’s fourth foul, and gave the Blue Devils a much-needed jolt of energy with his quality minutes.
“It was fun to be out there tonight, just out there competing and having some fun,” Giles said. “This was a tough game and I was prepared for it. I’ve been working, trying to get back in shape and I was ready. So there we go.”
Now tied for second in the ACC with Louisville and Florida State, Duke will return home to Cameron Indoor Stadium to host Wake Forest Saturday at 1 p.m.