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Virginia upsets No. 7 Duke men's basketball despite Blue Devils' second-half surge

Big man Mark Williams commanded the paint on the offensive end all night.
Big man Mark Williams commanded the paint on the offensive end all night.

Riding the high of Saturday’s monstrous win in Chapel Hill, Duke entered Monday night with all the momentum.

By the end of the night, that momentum came to a screeching halt.

No. 7 Duke had its hands full Monday night with ACC foe Virginia, falling 69-68 after dropping behind early in the first half. The Blue Devils made multiple second-half runs that ultimately fell just short, as the Cavaliers used a game-winning shot by sophomore guard Reece Beekman and stellar scoring performances from Jayden Gardner and Kadin Shedrick to earn the win in the game’s thrilling final sequence. Duke received a spirited effort from sophomore center Mark Wiliams, but Virginia kept the Blue Devils at arm’s length and walked out of Cameron Indoor Stadium with the win after 40 minutes of play.

“It’s a tough loss because of how it ended,” said Krzyzewski. “But we were not worthy of winning most of the game.”

With Duke leading 66-64 and less than two minutes to play, Beekman stole the ball and laid it up and in to tie the game in crunch time. But after two free throws by freshman guard Trevor Keels and roughly a minute of scoreless basketball, the Cavaliers went into the game’s final possession trailing by two points. A jump ball with 7.2 seconds to play gave the away team the ball under the rim with the chance to win or tie.

Moments later, Beekman drilled the go-ahead triple from the corner with roughly a second remaining. After a thrilling back-and-forth final few minutes, it was Virginia who got the last laugh.

“Reece [Beekman] made a big-time shot,” Keels said. “That’s a huge shot. You’ve got to give him credit. He stepped up and hit a big-time shot. Reece [Beekman] is a great player.”

“I’m glad we were 2-of-12 from three instead of 1-of-12,” said Virginia head coach Tony Bennett.

With time becoming a factor in the second half and Duke behind 63-59, junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. nailed a triple to make it a one-point affair. One defensive stop later, sophomore guard Jeremy Roach’s driving layup gave the Blue Devils their first lead since early in the first half. 

Nearing the midway point of the second half and still trailing 45-39, the Blue Devils ignited another of their many runs, with and-one layups from both Moore and 6-foot-9 graduate transfer Theo John leading to back-to-back buckets by Keels to cut the Cavalier lead to 51-50. 

“We gave ourselves a chance,” said Williams. “First half, we didn’t fight, second half we gave ourselves a chance.”

Williams, playing with four fouls, refused to go quietly, reentering the game at the 9:47 mark and continuing to pace Duke on offense in a last-gasp attempt to stage a late-game comeback. This time, the Blue Devils (19-4, 9-3 in the ACC) finally caught up to their ACC rivals, setting forth the game’s breathtaking final sequence.

Duke entered the second half sporting the same zone defense it played at points in the first and a smothering press scheme, picking up the Cavaliers (15-9, 9-5) full court. The results showed nearly immediately, as the Blue Devils maintained their momentum from the end of the first half, using a couple of big baskets by Williams—who stayed in the game after an early third foul—to force Virginia back onto its heels. 

The sophomore big man and defensive anchor scored eight points in the first four minutes of the half, keeping the home side within reach of the Cavaliers. Still, Virginia maintained its lead as time bore on. But the decision to keep Williams on the court became a costly one when the Virginia native picked up an offensive foul for his fourth personal with more than 15 minutes to play.

“I picked up that fourth one pretty early but Theo [John] came in and did a great job protecting the rim really well and was fighting on the glass,” said Williams. “Obviously, he had a couple of huge blocks down the stretch. He did a great job while he was in there.”

With the contest knotted at 17 approximately halfway through the game’s first 20 minutes, the Blue Devils went cold, going scoreless for nearly five minutes while Virginia continued to pick them apart inside the arc, without the need of the 3-point line. Graduate transfer forward Bates Jones stopped the bleeding momentarily with a timely corner three, but Virginia continued the run, eventually jumping out to a 32-20 lead with just over two minutes to play in the half.

“They carved us up,” said Krzyzewski. “20 of their first 22 points are in the paint, they had 52 for the game.”

But before the first-half buzzer, Duke’s offense appeared to wake up: Moore’s and-one layup ignited a 9-2 run featuring threes by freshman forward Paolo Banchero and Jones, and the Blue Devils were able to cut the lead to 34-29 at the halfway point. Still, head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad faced its largest halftime deficit of the season—it only trailed otherwise in a Dec. 22 win against Virginia Tech.

Both teams got off to a slow start in the first few minutes, but it was Virginia who seized the lead in the early going. Led by junior guard Armaan Franklin, who scored the Cavaliers’ first four points, the away team jumped out to an early 8-2 lead as the Blue Devils struggled to convert from the field against Virginia’s vaunted pack line defense.

“I think we could’ve prepared better,” said Keels. “We started off the game a little slow. We fought at the end, but [Virginia’s] a great team and it’s hard to fight against teams like that because they’re always going to keep it up.”

Duke’s slow start prompted Krzyzewski to take an early timeout, and the Blue Devils came back to the floor seemingly wide awake, cutting the lead in half with a Roach triple and riding the two-way play of Williams to erase the early deficit. After Duke took its first lead at 9-8 on a nifty drive by Banchero, Williams helped preserve that lead with a tough block of Virginia’s Reece Beekman at the other end.

A big part of Duke’s halftime deficit had to do with the offensive end of the floor, where the Blue Devils struggled to put the ball through the hoop for large portions of the half. Freshman forward AJ Griffin, fresh off a career-high performance against North Carolina, was held scoreless on five shot attempts through 20 minutes, Banchero missed a few open attempts at the rim and Duke as a team ultimately shot just 37% from the field before heading to the locker room.

“[Krzyzewski] talked to us at the half. He talked to us before the game. He told us it’s not going to be easy. You’ve got to beat human nature,” Williams said. “You just beat a Carolina team by 20 on the road, and you’ve got to come out here on a Monday, just two days later, and beat another tough team. We didn’t do that tonight.”

The Blue Devils hit the road again Thursday for a rematch with Clemson.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article cited Mark Williams as the author of the quote ending in calling Reece Beekman “a great player.” Trevor Keels was the author of that quote and the article has been updated to reflect that. The Chronicle regrets the error. 

Jonathan Levitan | Sports Editor

Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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