Against the nation’s stingiest scoring defense, Duke’s final possessions in the 69-63 win at Virginia went like this:
3-pointer, lay-up, lay-up, dunk, 2-point jumper, lay-up, missed lay-up, lay-up, 3, putback, 3, 3, lay-up, 3, 3.
There was just one empty possession in that stretch, which lasted for the final 9:39 of the game. That also works out to 2.27 points per possession—nearly triple Virginia’s season-average of 0.82 points per possession yield to opponents.
Before that first 3, from Tyus Jones to cut an 11-point Cavaliers lead to 45-37, the Blue Devils were 0-for-9 from beyond the arc. The game plan for the first half—get the ball down the floor as quick as possible, not stopping until getting to the rim—had Duke up by one at halftime 26-25, despite giving UVA 10 offensive rebounds. When the Cavaliers stopped allowing those easy transition baskets, the UVA lead grew and grew until Duke started hitting 3s.
For the game, Duke finished with an average of 1.17 points per possession—the sixth-largest points per possession mark for an ACC team in Tony Bennett’s six seasons at Virginia, according to syracuse.com’s Patrick Stevens. It’s only the second time a Bennett-led Virginia team has allowed a conference opponent to top 1.15 points per possession in Charlottesville.
Duke’s defense tightened up as its offense got going, too. Krzyzewski made in-game decisions to switch from Duke’s typical man-to-man to a 2-3 zone and then to a 3-2 zone before going back to the 2-3. The Cavaliers went scoreless for the final 3:41 of the game as Duke finished in an 11-0 run.
Against the man-to-man in the second half, Virginia (finally) did a better job being patient, moving the ball around until driving lanes opened up. The 2-3 zone was designed to eliminate that problem—but the the Cavaliers attacked the doughnut in the middle of the zone at the free throw line (in addition to hitting 3s). The 3-2 zone temporarily plugged the doughnut hole but opened up other seams along the baseline. Thus, the switch back to the 2-3.
It was as much as a chess match as it sounds, with Duke deploying a variety of pieces and moves in attempt to crack the undefeated Cavaliers’ armor. The stone-cold 3 from Tyus Jones, with 11 seconds left and London Perrantes’s right hand in his face, served as the final dagger.
A week that started with a double-digit comeback ended the same way.