DURHAM — Virginia had two chances to send Thursday's game against Duke to overtime, missing two open 3-pointers in the final seconds to allow the Blue Devils to hold on for a 61-58 victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
With the way the Blue Devils clamped down on the Cavaliers over the previous 19:50 and asserted itself on the defensive end, maybe it was fate's way of winking at the oft-maligned Duke defense for a job well done.
The Blue Devils may not have challenged Virginia's final two opportunities the way they wanted, but they did hold the Cavaliers to 29.4 percent shooting after halftime while forcing Virginia to miss all 11 of their 3-point attempts.
"I don't think that game came down to that last shot," Duke's Austin Rivers said. "I think that game came down to rebounds, and the big shots we made and the defensive stops we made and the emphasis we had on (Mike) Scott in the second half.
"I think that's what won us the game, not that last shot."
With the score close at halftime after a monster first half by Virginia's Mike Scott - he had 16 points before halftime and finished with 23 points and nine rebounds - Duke used a 7-0 run early in the second half to break a 38-38 tie and take a seven-point lead.
Duke had its biggest lead of the game - nine points after Seth Curry made a layup and was fouled - with a little more than 4 minutes remaining before the Cavaliers nearly rallied.
The closest the No. 16 Cavaliers (14-2, 1-1) got was three points after Akil Mitchell had a one-handed dunk on an offensive rebound to cut the Duke lead to 61-58 with 47.6 seconds remaining.
The eighth-ranked Blue Devils (14-2, 2-0) nearly committed a 10-second violation on their ensuing possession before Rivers missed on a drive, leading to Virginia's final possession. With the clock inside 7 seconds, Scott missed a 3-pointer from the corner and Jontel Evans missed another 3-pointer from the wing as time expired.
Had Scott or Evans made their shot, the story of the game may have been Scott's effort.
"When a man does that in this kind of game, he's a helluva player, just a helluva player," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Instead, Krzyzewski could praise the efforts of Mason Plumlee (12 points, seven rebounds and an especially assertive mindset in the second half) and, yes, the Blue Devils' defense without it seeming beside the point.
"We played really good defense," Krzyzewski said. "We can play defense, too. Just remember the teams we've played against are really good. You can play defense a variety of ways. I thought they played it well, and I thought we played it well tonight."
With the score tied at 38, Curry made a 3-pointer from the right wing, Tyler Thornton converted a driving layup in traffic and Miles Plumlee had an emphatic dunk off a Thornton assist in transition to cap a quick 7-0 Blue Devil run and give Duke a 45-38 edge. It was the first time the Blue Devils had led by more than two points.
The Duke advantage stayed around the 6-8 point range for the next 5 minutes.
Virginia had a harder time getting the ball to Scott in scoring position as the Blue Devils defense stiffened.
"We got a little more aggressive, more physical and played him more straight up," Miles Plumlee said. "Obviously it paid off for us."
With Duke up 55-48 with a little less than 5 minutes remaining and the shot clock winding down, Curry drove to the basket and made a basket while being fouled by Assane Sene.
He missed the free throw, but the Blue Devils still led by nine.
While it has a strong defense, the one thing Virginia has a hard time doing is scoring points in bunches. Duke didn't pull too far away, but Virginia didn't get to within one possession until the Mitchell dunk.
The Blue Devils had to sweat out the final seconds, but they left encouraged by their defensive improvement.
"Looking at our team, our defense isn't where it needs to be," Miles Plumlee said. "That's part of our culture at Duke - our defense - and why we've been great teams. We can't be one of the worst defensive teams in our league if we're going to be a great team at the end of the year. I think this was a step in the right direction."