CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA.—In a rematch of Duke’s last-second loss to Virginia just weeks ago, the Blue Devils kicked off a three-game road stretch Wednesday night at John Paul Jones Arena. Halfway in, the Blue Devils lead 30-25, and fans may be in for another exciting finish between the ACC foes.
Cold start from long range
Within the opening minutes of Wednesday night’s contest, Duke’s emphasis on 3-point shooting was clear. The Blue Devils hoisted and missed triples on four of their first five shots and overall struggled to score in the game’s opening sequence. By the first stoppage just more than five minutes in, Duke had just two buckets and trailed 7-4 shortly after sophomore guard Reece Beekman ignited the Cavalier crowd with a wing three. The Blue Devils never let the Cavaliers stretch the lead too far in the early stages, though, and sophomore guard Jeremy Roach eventually hit Duke’s first three of the game as both offenses began to heat up and put an end to a rather unsightly start.
Minutes for Mark
Sophomore center Mark Williams was arguably the Blue Devils’ most effective player in that Feb. 7 thriller between Duke and Virginia in Durham, tallying 16 points and three blocks in less than 20 minutes of playing time. Still, the Virginia native spent more than half of the contest on the bench with foul trouble, picking up two personals in the first half. But Williams hasn’t had to deal with such issues so far Wednesday, and has looked every bit the defensive anchor he is expected to be for these Blue Devils in the first half. A relatively-unrestricted Williams heading into the second half bodes well for head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad in another close matchup between these two teams.
Another key storyline from Virginia’s win at Cameron Indoor Stadium earlier this month was the subdued play of star freshman Paolo Banchero, who registered a season-low nine points against the Cavaliers in the loss. Banchero was similarly quiet in the first half of Wednesday’s battle, hitting just one of his first four shots and ending the half with four points and three turnovers. The 6-foot-10 freshman has made a habit out of big second halves, but his absence should be noted and played a big role in the first half’s flow.
Inside the paint
A big contributor to Duke’s downfall against Virginia at home was its lack of paint defense: The Cavaliers didn’t need the long ball to take an early lead in that one, hitting just one first-half triple but leading by five at the break and finishing the game with a 52-28 lead in points in the paint. But the Cavaliers flipped the script on that in this one, as a red-hot Kihei Clark led the Virginia 3-point barrage to overcome Duke’s solid interior defense. A road win for these Blue Devils, it would seem, goes beyond rectifying those shortcomings on the inside.
Player of the half: Kihei Clark
In what was largely an ugly half on the offensive end for both sides, Clark put on a masterclass, draining six triples and pacing the Virginia attack all by himself. With the Cavaliers trailing 17-13 and the Blue Devils beginning to take control of the game’s pace, Clark connected from beyond the arc three times in a row to put his team ahead multiple possessions in a flash. It was just that kind of half for the senior guard, who put Virginia on his shoulders in a Herculean first-half effort. For all his stellar play, though, Clark’s team is still neck and neck with the Blue Devils heading into the final 20 minutes.
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.