Virginia's brand is forcing opponents to play uncomfortable. No. 10 Duke men's basketball flipped that script Saturday

Tyrese Proctor slams the ball down with one hand during Duke's Saturday night obliteration of Virginia.
Tyrese Proctor slams the ball down with one hand during Duke's Saturday night obliteration of Virginia.

Over the past 10 or so years, Virginia has been the last team you would expect to have an everything-goes-according-to-plan kind of game against. Not just fortunately, but by design, No. 10 Duke crafted one of those nights with a 73-48 win Saturday.

In the Cavaliers, the Blue Devils welcomed a traditional conference foe which has given Duke all sorts of trouble, with last season a showcase of both Virginia’s grit and Duke’s resilience. The story is retold often in Durham: Virginia kept Kyle Filipowski scoreless in their meeting in Charlottesville, Va., before the Blue Devils went on a 10-game win streak which led to the summit — an ACC tournament victory against the same Virginia squad. And in all but two games in the rivalry series since 2011 the Cavaliers held the Blue Devils to under 70 points.

That’s just what they do. The famous pack-line defense which helped Virginia win a national championship in 2019 keeps teams on their toes while operating in a drowsy yet discombobulated game. But after Saturday night, Duke thinks it has reset the standard.

“The first four minutes.”

That is how long it took senior guard Jeremy Roach to know the Blue Devils were going to play the game their way. 

“This could get ugly quick,” he said.

Virginia’s Jacob Groves started things off with a midrange jumper, which he used as an opportunity to try to quiet down Cameron Indoor Stadium. Instead, he had all but silenced his team’s offensive flow, leading to a 33-9 Duke run over the next 13 minutes. Second-chance points, steals, blocks — you name it, the Blue Devils got it. 

But instead of getting caught up in Virginia’s typically smothering defensive sets, the Blue Devils knew they had the matchups to take their guests one-on-one, most notably by utilizing Filipowski’s size and red-hot first-half shooting from the Blue Devils’ returners. 

“They're a really different team on what they show us,” Filipowski said. “And we did have to adapt to that a little bit, but ultimately, it's just us playing the way we've been playing.”

Filipowski, Mark Mitchell and Tyrese Proctor combined for 30 points on 12-for-17 shooting while Roach picked up three assists and did an impeccable job of keeping Virginia to just 23.1% shooting in the first half. While it was a show of dominance on both ends, the players behind it should be a surprise to no one — the guys who have seen this Virginia team before were the commanders of the mission to dismantle it.

“It's gonna be hard for them to get back in the game because they got to change how they play and their style,” Mitchell said of Duke’s early punch.

Everything was going right for Duke to see brilliant head coach Tony Bennett have to adjust to what his opponents were giving his team. But Mitchell was more than right about it being hard to get back in the game. After all, Virginia faced a 25-point deficit before halftime when the Cavaliers’ game-by-game objective is to keep their opponents below the 25-point mark in a half. 

“I thought everyone played well and did good things. But especially the four returners … they just had a great pop to them,” head coach Jon Scheyer said. 

Scheyer acknowledged the difficulty of pouring in as many points as Duke did against a team like Virginia, saying postgame that “our guys came out really ready to play.”

“I thought we could get anything we wanted offensively,” said Proctor, who scored 15 points to go along with four rebounds and five assists. “Defensively, knowing matchups, getting rebounds and just pushing … that's what we got. That's why we got so many steals and layups and dunks. Our best offensive is our defense.”

As Roach pointed out, the early going showed that Duke could make it ugly for opposition and with the solid defense and timely ball movement, the Blue Devils turned Cameron Indoor Stadium into a dunk contest. Proctor jammed one on a fast break and Filipowski threw down a windmill after stealing an side-out inbound late in the first half. The Cameron Crazies, the judges who had camped out in Krzyzewskiville for several nights for Saturday’s affair, gave all 10’s.

A testament to the Blue Devils’ game plan — and assistant coach Emanuel Dildy’s scout of the Cavaliers — nearly everything was working on both ends of the floor. For a team that looks to make opponents uncomfortable, Duke was having a field day and even got to see senior guard Spencer Hubbard notch a season-high in minutes.

“They try and make you play outside your comfort zone,” Proctor said. “I thought we just handled the tempo and the physicality of things.”

The praise of the team from Scheyer could not have been more clear. He said he thought Duke’s energy, decision-making, shooting, attacking the basket and defending were all “really good,” and the list doesn’t end there. The longtime Chicago Cubs fan compared his Australian guard’s performance to that of a pitcher tossing a near perfect game.

For Duke, it was time to celebrate the wreckage of a perennial powerhouse and defensive stalwart, but Virginia exited Cameron Indoor with a gloomy path ahead of it. Sitting squarely on the bubble ahead of their loss Saturday, the Cavaliers will now need a strong showing in the ACC tournament in Washington, D.C., to secure their spot. They have now lost five in-conference road games by 16 points or more — and the Blue Devils made sure they would be one of them. 

Meanwhile the Blue Devils continue to jell and see their veterans use their experience to teach the rookies how to win. The vets said they used last year’s loss at Virginia (and against N.C. State, its opponent Monday) to feed their fire. 

“We didn't want to be embarrassed like that again,” Filipowski said.

Micah Hurewitz

Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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