CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.— R.J. Barrett didn’t hesitate. The freshman caught the pass from Tre Jones, stepped toward the 3-point line and fired the night’s opening shot.
It was all nylon.
A few possessions later, Barrett did the same, this time from the right wing. A pass from Jones right in the hip pocket, a step and another long-range try.
That one rattled down.
All of a sudden, Duke was up 8-0.
Yes, those No. 2 Blue Devils—the same ones that began the night 308th in the nation in 3-point shooting and knocked down just two of their 14 attempts beyond the arc three weeks ago in Durham—had hit their first two triples of the night.
And the hits kept coming. Zion Williamson got in on the party from downtown, followed by classmate Cam Reddish. Barrett then drilled three more. They had to miss at some point, right?
"One of things I love about this team is that we love playing on the road," Barrett said. "We know we’re coming into someone’s house and they’re going to bring the fight to us, so we’ve got to come out [swinging] first."
Duke couldn't hit every 3-pointer Saturday night, but Barrett's career-best six treys were as big as reason as any the Blue Devils left Charlottesville with a win for the third time in as many tries. The Canadian led Duke with 28 points and seven rebounds, needing just 15 shots to turn in arguably his most efficient performance in a Blue Devil uniform.
"R.J.’s played outstanding, but he’s been disappointed," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He wants to be great, so he really had unbelievable preparation for this game, and you could see right away he was lathered up and he got us off to such a good start.... When we moved the ball and got them to move a little bit, sometimes we got some open shots, and then when we didn’t, [Virginia] forced us into 15 turnovers, which they do. We did enough to win."
By the time Duke headed to the locker room, Barrett had already poured in 15 of his points.
It was a different story from the teams' matchup three weeks prior.
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When the Cavaliers visited Durham, Barrett hit just one 3-pointer all night. Twenty of his team-high 30 points at Cameron Indoor came from inside the arc—mostly at or around the basket—and the other seven came at the charity stripe. This time around, Barrett went just 2-of-5 on 2-point tries.
"We really tried to keep [Duke] out of the lane and jam the lane. We probably over-corrected in terms of that," Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. "You have to read when is that guy okay on the ball and then leave and be there on the catch....We plugged the gaps and we probably were in there a little long and [Duke] hit deep shots. They have some special players."
Barrett is undoubtedly one of those guys. Nearly every NBA mock draft has the freshman slated as the No. 2 pick behind Williamson. And if not, Barrett is probably third after Williamson and Murray State standout Ja Morant.
But in the Blue Devil locker room, you wouldn't know it. Williamson had a horde of reporters around him, less than 100 feet from the John Paul Jones Arena floor. His roommate, Barrett, had just a handful huddled nearby on the other side of the room.
Somehow, Barrett avoids the attention. So long as he's making things happen for his teammates, that seems to be just fine with him.
"When he gets it going, I know I’m going to be open and he’ll find me," Reddish said of Barrett. "We just have really good guys on the team. We’re really, really humble. We just want to win."
Barrett, Williamson and Reddish all came together as the final seconds ticked away and Duke's trio of stars embraced.
Can big wins happen in February?
For three guys who might only be in Durham two more months, they're going to celebrate each moment while they still can.
"Basketball is basketball—it’s what we love to do and every night, we get to come out and compete," Reddish said. "We’ve all been working tremendously hard and just for it to pay off, we were so happy. There was nothing we could do but hug and just laugh it out."