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Beyond the arc: Duke men's basketball suffers from lack of offensive balance against Virginia

Joey Baker hasn't hit a three since Duke's win against Notre Dame Feb. 15.
Joey Baker hasn't hit a three since Duke's win against Notre Dame Feb. 15.

The nightmares for Duke on the road continued in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, as the team couldn’t land a knockout punch against Virginia despite establishing a seven-point lead early in the second half. It was the third straight road loss for the Blue Devils, who now fall to fourth in the ACC standings. The Blue Zone breaks down three key takeaways, stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils:

Three key takeaways:

Jay Huff: “Ralph Sampson” reincarnated

For Ralph Sampson, the Virginia legend that sat courtside to behold the incredible victory of his alma mater, the dominant defensive performance of Jay Huff must have brought flashbacks of his old days in Charlottesville. Huff finished the contest with 10 blocks, only two away from Sampson’s school record. The 7-foot-1 forward also showcased tremendous leaping ability on the offensive end with an array of SportsCenter-worthy dunks to finish the night with 15 points.

A native of Durham, Huff finished just one rebound shy of a triple-double as well. What could be a more memorable leap day than having the best game of his career against his hometown team in front of Ralph Sampson?

Lethargic start continues

Maybe Duke doesn’t read The Chronicle, or maybe the team just needs five more minutes to warm up for every ACC road game. At the 15-minute mark in the first half Saturday night, the Blue Devils unsurprisingly found themselves down three while only making two of their first seven attempts from the field. 

On the defensive end, Duke's sloppiness allowed Virginia to easily find open shot opportunities or unattended big men around the rim. All three of the Cavaliers' field goals over the first five minutes of the game came off an assist. In contrast, ball movement on the Blue Devil side was nonexistent all night long, as the team totaled just four assists in 40 minutes. 

Trapped in their game

Duke's entered the game ranked first in the ACC with 83.3 points per game, with Virginia having allowed only 52.7 points per contest, the lowest in the nation. Judging from the scoreboard, Saturday night was a typical Cavaliers gams, while the Blue Devils were pushed away from their brand of uptempo basketball. Duke finished with a season-low 50 points, 13 points below the previous season-low mark against Boston College.

In addition to a lack of ball movement, the Blue Devils shot abysmal percentages in all three categories: 66.7 percent from the free throw line, 30.5 percent from the field and 23.5 percent from beyond the arc. Furthermore, Virginia’s disciplined defense only gave up five fast-break points despite committing 15 turnovers.

Three key stats: 

Outside of Vernon Carey Jr. and Tre Jones, 0-of-11 from three for Duke

Vernon Carey Jr. opened the night for the Blue Devils with a spot-up triple. Tre Jones was having a hot hand from beyond the arc as well, making his first three attempts from deep. That was all the production Duke had from behind the 3-point line Saturday night. 

Where were the Blue Devils' shooters? Matthew Hurt played a total of nine minutes against the Cavaliers, Alex O'Connell didn’t even attempt a shot from deep in three minutes of play and Joey Baker still hasn't hit a trey since the Notre Dame win.

Three double-digit scorers for Virginia, two for Duke

Virginia had three men to rely on offensively, while Duke couldn’t find a consistent third option outside the Carey-Jones duo. Redshirt senior forward Mamadi Diakite and senior guard Braxton Key contributed their regular share of 14 points apiece while Huff stepped up big-time with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Cassius Stanley and Hurt, the two Blue Devils outside of Carey and Jones averaging double-digit points per game, combined for four points on 1-of-11 shooting Saturday.

Three road losses in a row

The last time Duke dropped three games in a row on the road was the 2016-2017 season, when the team was eliminated in the second round of the NCAA tournament. If senior captains Javin DeLaurier and Jack White don’t want to end their Blue Devil careers the way they started, there are only two home games left for them to adjust before March really sets in motion.

Looking forward:

The good news is there are no more road trips for the Blue Devils, who will at least have their devoted Cameron Crazies back for their final two regular season games. Duke will seek revenge against N.C. State Monday before finishing off its regular season slate Saturday against North Carolina. 

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