The stage was set for a Blue Devil upset win.
The last time an unranked Duke faced Virginia, just over five years ago, the Blue Devils shocked the seventh-ranked Cavaliers in Cameron Indoor Stadium, with Grayson Allen hitting an acrobatic, one-handed bank shot to win it at the buzzer.
And Saturday night in the same home venue, Duke did it again, taking down No. 7 Virginia 66-65 for its third consecutive conference win, but first ranked victory of the season.
With the Blue Devils holding that one-point edge and less than one minute remaining in the contest, the Cavaliers walked up the floor and looked for Sam Hauser to try and give them the lead. The star forward missed a leaning catch-and-shoot three with 37 seconds left, but redshirt senior Jay Huff got the offensive rebound to grant Virginia a second chance. The Cavaliers then reset their offense, with Kihei Clark taking the ball, driving baseline and tossing up a floater, which bounced off back iron with 14 seconds left.
After a skirmish for the ball resulted in Blue Devil possession, the Cavaliers fouled Duke guard DJ Steward with just under 10 seconds remaining. Virginia had one more opportunity when Steward missed his first free throw on a one-and-one, but the Blue Devils defended Clark perfectly, forcing the junior guard into a contested three at the buzzer that was tipped by Duke forward Matthew Hurt and fell short of the basket.
"It's sad that fans were not at this game. This was an epic game," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "This [was] a great basketball game, tonight. Every possession was fought—seemed like every dribble, at times. [Virginia is] an outstanding team and program. They're veterans and they played like it. They're so poised, and they play great defense. And our kids played great defense tonight, too, and came up with some really big plays."
Virginia looked like it was taking control with eight minutes left in the contest, with Hauser coming off a screen and draining a deep two to break a 51-51 tie. Just over a minute later, Clark drove down the lane and hit a lay-in while absorbing the foul, sinking the free throw to put the Cavaliers ahead 56-51, the largest second-half lead for either squad.
But the Blue Devils wouldn’t let Virginia break away, with a Wendell Moore Jr. jumper and Steward three tying the game once again.
From there, the score went back-and-forth, with both teams continuing to trade buckets in a classic Duke-Virginia matchup. Two Huff free throws put the Cavaliers ahead 65-62 with three minutes remaining, but Steward answered right back with a jumper to pull Duke within one.
Then, as Clark received the ensuing inbound pass, the Blue Devils slapped the floor in unison, a program trademark. Virginia would not score the rest of the game.
On that possession, Jaemyn Brakefield swatted away a Clark layup attempt, following the block up with a reverse layup on the other end to give the Blue Devils a 66-65 edge in what ended up being the final score.
"We just knew once they went up, we had to remain calm and just stay in the game," Brakefield said. "We knew we were always in the game. Just making those plays—that's why you come to Duke, man, just to make plays like that. And that's Duke basketball."
Duke (10-8, 8-6 in the ACC) led 39-36 coming out of halftime, but Virginia (15-5, 11-3) opened the second half with a vengeance. Well, more specifically, Huff opened the second half with a vengeance. The 7-foot-1 forward slammed home three straight dunks to open the period, quickly regaining the lead for the Cavaliers.
But Hurt continued to showcase his “Larry Bird-esque” shooting stroke, as ESPN studio analyst Jay Bilas so eloquently put it, draining a quick jumper and three to keep it close.
The Minnesota native came into the contest red-hot, shooting 18-of-21 from the field and 9-of-11 from deep over his last two games, both Blue Devil wins. And the sophomore continued that hot streak in the first half Saturday, draining his first three shots, all of them from beyond the arc.
Hurt eventually finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the floor, including 5-of-8 from distance.
"I think my teammates and my coaching staff did a great job of giving me confidence," Hurt said of his recent hot streak. "There was a couple-game stretch that I wasn't playing well, but my coaching staff and my teammates—they believe in me.... I just try to be aggressive and just try to win, especially. We got the win, and that's all I care about."
Still, Virginia held a narrow edge throughout most of the opening half thanks to some swift moves inside from Huff, the craftiness of Clark and the sharpshooting of Hauser. The trio combined for 54 of the Cavaliers' 65 points on the night.
But then, Brakefield decided enough was enough.
The freshman forward scored nine straight points by himself via two layups, a breakaway slam and a three, turning a 25-20 Duke deficit into a 29-25 lead with five minutes remaining in the half.
Brakefield finished with 11 points, five rebounds and four blocks in a career-high 29 minutes.
"The experience of playing at the collegiate level, at this level with the physicality, it's a learned experience," Krzyzewski said. "You can only learn it by playing in these games.... These kids have done what we've asked them to do, and Jaemyn is a prime example."
The Blue Devils were promptly granted a No. 20 ranking following Allen’s buzzer-beater to defeat Virginia in 2016, remaining in the top 25 every week for nearly five years up until this past January. It remains to be seen if Duke can return to the top 25 at some point this season. But one thing is certain—the Blue Devils' NCAA tournament chances are still alive.
Duke has a quick turnaround following this huge win, taking on Syracuse Monday at 7 p.m.
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