The last time Cameron Indoor Stadium hosted a top-five matchup, Duke and Syracuse went right down to the wire in one of the most memorable regular-season games in college basketball history.
Saturday, the Blue Devils went toe-to-toe with an ACC heavyweight in a hard-fought contest, but ended up on the losing end of the scoreboard.
No. 2 Virginia withstood a 19-4 run by Duke early in the second half and got timely jumpers from its backcourt of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy to topple the fourth-ranked Blue Devils 65-63. Jerome and Guy combined for 31 points to notch Virginia's first top-five win of the season, as Duke scored 15 fewer points than its previous season low.
“We put ourselves in a position to win, but we couldn’t close it out, and again, they don’t want to lose,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “You’re playing one of the best teams in the country, so you’ve got to be able to do it at that level, and that’s what we have to keep learning. We’re getting better, but we didn’t have enough to win the game today.”
Guy helped the Cavaliers get separation in a tight second half with a contested corner triple to give the road team a 60-55 lead with just more than three minutes remaining. After Marvin Bagley III’s easy slam cut the lead to 60-58, Guy missed an open triple, but Virginia got the ball right back on a steal by Ty Jerome off an ill-advised pass by Trevon Duval.
“It’s never one play. A lot of things go into the game and that pass, we throw all the time,” senior Grayson Allen said. “You obviously have to know time, but running is a huge part of our offense and it’s hard to just turn that off at the end. Jerome really made a good play because I didn’t think he was as close as he was, and he went up and got the ball.”
Jerome then nailed a dagger triple from the top of the key to stretch the Cavalier lead to five with 38 seconds remaining.
“I was definitely surprised he took it. I was right there. My hand was up and everything,” Duval said. “He made a really great shot. There was a lot of time on the clock, shot clock, everything, and I guess he had the confidence to just take that shot, and he drained it.”
Virginia would go on to miss consecutive front-ends of one-and-ones, leaving the door ever so slightly open for Duke. After Bagley hit a 3-pointer to cut it to two, Guy calmly sank a pair of free throws with 10 seconds remaining to ice the game.
Coming into Saturday’s battle of top-five teams, the big storyline was Duke’s top-ranked offense against Virginia’s best defense in the nation. And in the first half, Virginia’s defense was the story, holding the Blue Devils (18-3, 6-3 in the ACC) to a season-low 22 points with its suffocating pack-line scheme.
But Duke roared back into the game behind the duo of Wendell Carter Jr. and Bagley. The Blue Devils matched their first-half output of 22 points in just an eight-minute span in the second half, getting easy looks by making extra passes and refusing to settle for contested jump shots. Bagley and Carter both recorded double-doubles and finished with 30 and 14 points, respectively.
“We moved the ball well and started to play through our bigs where we could get more high-low action as they were X-ing out and switching on ball screens,” Allen said. “A lot of it is Marvin and Wendell making great plays when not much is drawn up, and a lot of it is moving the ball and making good passes.”
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Duke’s defense—the same defense that allowed more than 90 points in consecutive ACC games in December and January—put forth a much better effort in the second half. The Blue Devils forced the ball out of the hands of Jerome and Guy, and Virginia’s offense went cold as a result, with the Cavaliers (20-1, 9-0) missing eight of their first nine triples and shooting just 35.1 percent in the second half. Duke allowed Isaiah Wilkins to sit in the middle of their 2-3 zone, but the Cavaliers’ forward struggled from the mid-range.
Despite having only two players with experience at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Cavaliers were poised from the opening tip. After Duke got four quick points from its freshman bigs, Virginia applied the clamps for much of the first half. Although Bagley and Carter combined for 16 of Duke’s 22 first-half points, the Cavaliers made life difficult for the Blue Devils by denying easy entry passes and contesting every shot at the rim.
Duke’s season-low first half point total was also due to struggles from the Blue Devil backcourt. In the first 20 minutes, Allen, Duval and Gary Trent Jr. combined for six turnovers and just six points on 3-of-16 shooting. On the other end, Guy and Jerome created good looks for the Cavalier forwards and were able to manufacture their own offense by getting by Duke’s first line of defense on a number of possessions.
“The first half, our guys have not been in a game like that, and it looked that way,” Krzyzewski said. “They made us not play well, and the level of intensity and the high level of defense and offense that they play knocked us back."
Virginia built a 32-22 halftime lead by holding Duke scoreless during two extended stretches and going on a 16-6 run of its own.
Looking to make their fourth comeback from a double-digit second-half deficit this year, the Blue Devils went on a quick 12-2 run behind a strong stretch of defense.
Duke tied the game just seconds later after a bizarre possession led to five quick points. Carter’s attempt at a lob from beyond the arc to Bagley went in the basket, while Bagley drew a foul on the post-up. Carter then finished with a slam on the ensuing inbounds play to tie the game at 39.
But after the teams went back and forth late in the second half, Virginia pulled away by corralling a pair of second chances off of offensive rebounds and getting big shots from its best players.
“You can’t be surprised when it goes in because good players make big shots like that,” Allen said.
The loss drops Duke three full games behind Virginia in the battle for the ACC regular-season crown. The Blue Devils will have to put the loss behind them in a hurry with a quick turnaround before taking the floor at home Monday night against Notre Dame.