Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said you have to give credit to No. 2 Virginia after Saturday’s win.
“They made us not play well,” Krzyzewski said.
The Cavaliers beat the fourth-ranked Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium 65-63 in a game that came down to the wire.
Virginia (20-1, 9-0 ACC), which has the country’s best defense, basically shut down the country’s second-best offense – Villanova has the best, according to kenpom.com – during the first half. Duke (19-3, 6-3 ACC) scored only 22 points in the first half, which is the fewest number of points Duke has scored in a half this season.
Duke senior guard Grayson Allen, who had recently come out of a shooting slump, had a rough day. He finished with 5 points, and was 2-for-8 from the floor.
The Blue Devils had a chance to win. Down by 10 at the half, they grabbed a three-point lead with 8:09 left in the game after an Allen layup.
But the Cavaliers showed exactly why they are the real deal. Sophomore guard Kyle Guy and sophomore guard Ty Jerome each hit clutch 3-pointers in the game’s final minutes. And Guy’s two free throws with eight seconds left gave the Cavaliers a four-point lead and the win.
Duke freshman point guard Trevon Duval said it was the little things that contributed to Duke’s loss.
Here are a few of them, and some other observations:
Duke missed front end of the one-and-one three times during the game’s final eight minutes. With 7:36 left, Duke freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr., who had 14 points and 15 rebounds, missed the first shot of a one-and-one. Had he knocked down both, Duke would have led by five points. Instead, Virginia went down court and scored on a layup to bring the score to one point.
With 4:41 left, Carter again missed the front end of the one-and-one. Had he made both, he could have tied the game. Instead, Virginia scored on another jump shot and went up by four points with 4:23 left in the game.
Then, with 3:06 left in the game, Duval missed the front end of a one-and-one that would have brought the score to four points. Virginia did not score on the ensuing possession, but it was a missed opportunity for Duke.
Duke had 16 turnovers. Turnovers have been one of Duke’s biggest issues this season. That and defense. But the defense has played fairly well since the loss to N.C. State on Jan. 6. Duke has had a few games in which turnovers were big problems, including against Miami on Jan. 15. Despite those turnovers, Duke has been able to find ways to win.
Not on Saturday.
Duke had a crucial turnover in the game’s final minute. The Blue Devils trailed 60-58 with 1:09 left in the game and had a chance to tie the game. Duval rebounded the basketball and attempted to pass it up court to Carter. But the pass was intercepted by Jerome. Jerome then hit a 3-pointer that gave the Cavaliers a five-point lead with 39 seconds left.
“Obviously you don’t want him to make it at that time,” Krzyzewski said of the pass. “Unless it’s completely clear. But it’s a mistake of commission, not omission, so that’s good. But you’re down by two and you got the ball. So it’s got to be complete, or you’ve got to run your half court offense.
“It was a big play, but that didn’t lose the game for us.”
It was ‘a tale of two halves.’ Virginia looked like they were going to run away with the game in the first half. The Cavaliers showed the Blue Devils why it was the best defensive team in the country. They took a 32-22 lead heading into halftime. They also shot 45 percent from the floor in the first half.
Duke showed the Cavaliers why it has the second-best offense in the country in the second half. Duke freshman forward Marvin Bagley III had 30 points and 14 rebounds.
The Blue Devils went to a 2-3 zone defense, which threw the Cavaliers’ offense off. While they missed some open shots, the zone forced them to hesitate before shooting. Duke went on a run and took its first lead in more than 20 minutes after a Marvin Bagley III layup with 12:30 to go in the game.
Duke shot 59 percent (17-for-29) from the floor in the second half and almost pulled off the comeback. But Virginia hit some timely shots in the last few minutes.
“Our guys have not been in a game like that,” Krzyzewski said. “The level of intensity and the high level of defense and offense that they play, I thought knocked us back.
“And then in the second half I thought we played really well. We fought. All this is a big learning experience for these guys...Then we were in a position to win.”
Duke’s starters played the entire second half. Sophomore center Marques Bolden, who warmed up with his teammates before the game, did not play on Saturday. He wore a knee brace. Sophomore forward Javin DeLaurier only played three minutes, and so did freshman guard Alex O’Connell, all in the first half.
Krzyzewski said the reason he didn’t play any of his reserves in the second half was partly due to injuries and illnesses. He said O’Connell had been sick, DeLaurier has a tight hamstring, and Bolden is still recovering from a MCL sprain. He also said it’s important to give the starters the most minutes.
“If we want to win something really big, your best players have to play a lot of minutes and I think that’s what the regular season is about,” Krzyzewski said. “Preparing for, and hopefully we’re in it in March.”
Virginia’s defense is the real deal. The fewest points Duke had scored in a game this season was 78 prior to Saturday. It came in a 78-61 win at home to Southern. On Saturday, the nation’s second-best offense scored only 63 points. Credit Virginia’s defense, which gives up 80.8 points per 100 possessions, according to kenpom.com. That is the best in the country.
It took a whole half before Duke was able to crack the code. And even then, it was not enough.
“All of the little things, like rebounding, taking care of the ball and just making free throws,” Duval said. “Those three things, if we had just done that, probably just a little bit better, we would have won the game.”