CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — All season, with or without Ryan Kelly, Duke has remained composed and steadily worked toward a strong regular season finish.
Suddenly, after a 73-68 loss at Virginia during which Duke was out-worked and left flustered, all of that is in doubt.
With the loss, No. 3 Duke (24-4, 11-4 in the ACC) has a one-game lead on UNC and the Cavaliers for second place. And the Blue Devils still have to host first-place Miamiwho has clinched a share of the regular-season titleand pay the Tar Heels a visit.
Duke was consistently outworked and outhustled, and that was most evident in Virginias edge on the boards. Duke finished with just three offensive rebounds. The Cavaliers (20-8, 10-5) pulled down 27 defensive rebounds.
Joe Harris in particular took advantage of Dukes lack of defensive energy. The junior finished with a career-high 36 points on 12-of-20 shooting from the floor. That was also the most points scored by an ACC player in a conference game this year.
He got a lot of tough plays, Seth Curry said. Loose balls, offensive rebounds, and then just strong cuts and drives. He was the most physical person out there.
Two plays in the second half reflected the results of the entire 40 minutes. In the opening minutes, Harris missed a 3-pointer but followed his shot, collected the rebound and finished in the lane to give Virginia a 32-26 lead.
Perhaps most problematic for Duke, though, was a true freshman moment from Rasheed Sulaimon, who has largely avoided those all year. Sulaimon was called for a foul on Harris, who had blown past him on a drive. As Harris was on the free throw line, though, a visibly upset Sulaimon was called for a technical foul. Quinn Cook tried to calm Sulaimon as he left the floor.
It was a tough game, a tough physical game, Cook said. The refs are hearing it from both coaches, fans, players, and theyre people, too. When they get the last straw, theyre going to react. So I just told him to keep it cool and dont say anything anymore.
The damage was done, as Harris responded by making all four free throws, giving Virginia a 38-26 lead.
Harris, who leads the Cavaliers with an average of 16.6 points per game, had 15 points in the first half alone. All of Dukes perimeter defendersQuinn Cook, Tyler Thornton, Rasheed Sulaimon and Seth Currytook turns trying to guard the 6-foot-6 Harris. None of the options were particularly successful.
Thornton, Dukes best on-ball defender, fouled out with 8:15 left in the game. Curry tried to bring the Blue Devils back with 23 second-half points, and Virginias lead was single digits with 5:30 remaining in the game, but Harris was there to answer every Duke threat.
Virginia was the superior team in every aspect of the game. Defensively, Duke had few open looks all night, as Virginias defenders did a masterful job hedging on screens throwing double teams in the post. Mason Plumlee was held to 10 points on 2-of-5 shooting. The Cavaliers opted not to guard or box-out Dukes four maneither Amile Jefferson or Josh Hairstonbut that duo grabbed just two defensive rebounds. Virginia also double-teamed on ball screens, but the Blue Devils couldnt pass out of the traps to the open man.
Duke shot under 40 percent for only the second time all seasonthe other time was at Miami.
Offensively, the Cavaliers had their way in the paint. Virginia cutters constantly found space in the lane, as the Blue Devils defense looked as porous as it did in earlier losses to Miami and Maryland.
Virginia never trailed in the game, as the Cavaliers opened with a 9-0 run. Duke didnt score until nearly five minutes had ticked off the clock.
Their energy was on another level that we havent seen for awhile, Curry said. They came out real physical, their crowd was good. They ran their offensive sharp, and we didnt do any of that to match it.
--Duke lost for the fourth time this year, and, once again, opposing fans rushed the court. The Blue Devils players and coaches, though, were caught in the swarming students, and a visibly upset Krzyzewski had a tough time making his way off the floor.
After the game, Krzyzewski chose his words carefully, saying several times that he didnt want to take away from Virginias great win. But he was bothered by the lack of protection for his players and coaches.
Whatever youre doing, you need to get the team off first. Look, celebrate, have fun, obviously you won, thats cool. Just get our team off the court and our coaching staff before students come on.
Look do you know how close you are to, just put yourself in the position of one of our players or coaches. Im not saying any fan did this, but the potential is there all the time for a fan to just go up to you and say, Coach youre a, or push you or hit you. And what do you do? What if you did something? That would be the story. We deserve that type of protection.
--Despite little going right for Duke in the first half, the Blue Devils only trailed 28-23 at the half. Virginia shot 48 percent from the field in the first half, but the Cavaliers missed several wide-open looks as the half came to a close. That trend continued in the second, as the Cavaliers couldnt ever pull away.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley