CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.—Three days after it put up 101 points against Wake Forest, Duke couldn’t even manage half of that total against Virginia behind a dreadful 30.5 percent from the field. Despite the wildly different scoring outputs, both contests produced the same result: a Blue Devil loss.
Behind a 15-point, 10-block effort from Jay Huff and tantalizing team defense, unranked Virginia upset No. 7 Duke 52-50. Saturday night’s win is Virginia’s first against the Blue Devils in John Paul Jones Arena since 2013. The Cavalier win propels them to third place in the ACC, while the Blue Devils fall to fourth just 10 days after holding the top spot in the conference thanks to three road losses in their last four contests.
“It’s a step forward from N.C. State and [Wake Forest], where we didn’t show up at all, but we’re not where we want to be at,” senior captain Javin DeLaurier said. “Obviously, it still sucks, but we’re just going to have to swallow this. It’s our toughest stretch of the year. We haven’t faced this much adversity yet. How we respond is going to be huge.”
Duke and Virginia traded blows all evening. The two teams would remain nearly deadlocked for the entirety of the second half, but Huff proved to be the hero of the night. Huff rejected a Vernon Carey Jr. shot inside that would have allowed the Blue Devils to take the lead with three seconds left, then hit a free throw to give Virginia a 52-50 lead. Tre Jones would miss a 35-foot heave at the buzzer to secure the Duke defeat.
“[Huff is] really good at what he does,” freshman forward Wendell Moore Jr. said. “He doesn’t always block the shot, but he alters them a lot. He’s just a big presence in there for them. He made shots difficult inside the paint, so he does a great job of that.”
A Jones 3-pointer from the top of the key briefly gave Duke (21-7, 13-5 in the ACC) a 48-47 lead with less than three minutes remaining, but Braxton Key would answer with a dunk on the next possession to pull the Cavaliers ahead. With a minute remaining, Jones once again put the Blue Devils in the driver’s seat thanks to a Mamadi Diakite goaltend. Diakite responded with a bucket of his own, giving Virginia a 51-50 advantage with 37 seconds left.
Jones came alive down the stretch for Duke, joining Carey as the sole Blue Devils that could poke a hole in the Cavaliers’ seemingly impenetrable defense. Outside of the two Duke stars, who each put up a game-high 17 points, the Blue Devils looked entirely overmatched. The eight other Duke players that logged minutes other than Carey and Jones combined for 16 points on an embarrassing 17.6 percent from the field.
Virginia (21-7, 13-5), which is dead-last nationally in KenPom.com’s adjusted tempo metric, effectively controlled the pace Saturday. Duke’s 50-point output is easily its lowest scoring total of the year, with the Blue Devils’ 63 points against Boston College Feb. 4 representing their previous low.
“[The Cavaliers] can control tempo. You’re not going to have a high-scoring game against them,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They didn’t have a high-scoring game against us either. Both teams played outstanding defense…. That’s the hard-fought type of game that they play all the time. That experience of playing in that level of game helps them...because they are accustomed to how important every possession is.”
Fresh off of one of the most embarrassing losses in recent Blue Devil history, Krzyzewski opted for a change in the starting lineup, replacing defensive-minded point guard Jordan Goldwire with sharpshooting forward Matthew Hurt, sending Goldwire to the bench for the first time since Feb. 8. Krzyzewski’s vote of confidence did not prove to light a fire under Hurt, as the Rochester. Minn., native did not score or collect a rebound in an uninspiring nine minutes of action.
Krzyzewski turned to DeLaurier early and often Saturday. The 6-foot-10 forward checked in as part of Duke’s first group of reinforcements minutes 3:23 into the game, and clocked a season-high 23 minutes. The Shipman, Va., native, who went to high school less than a mile from John Paul Jones Arena, was a consistent contributor on both ends of the floor. DeLaurier finished strong inside—excluding whiffing on an open dunk in the beginning of the second half—en route to a six-point effort, also effectively protecting the rim with three blocks.
The Blue Devils similarly relied upon Jack White, DeLaurier’s roommate and fellow senior captain, to play a larger-than-usual role as a defensive stopper. After playing just one minute against Wake Forest Wednesday, White played 14 minutes Saturday.
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“Me and Jav, we just try to come in and fight and be hungry and try to make winning plays, try to be in the right spots,” White said. “We really wanted this game. It just sucks how it ended.”
After enduring what was easily their worst week of the season, the Blue Devils will get to return to the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium for their final two games of the regular season next week, hosting N.C. State Monday and North Carolina Saturday.
“I think this is a key period for us. Find out who we really are,” Jones said. “This is the most adversity we’ve been through all year, so just trying to get through this, find out who we really are, continue to battle, continue to fight every single game. We know that if we keep fighting like we did tonight, everything will work itself out.”