Cavaliers fall short against No. 23 Duke
Men's basketball loses 69-65 on the road, suffers first ACC loss of the season
Virginia really had no business being competitive in its game Monday night against Duke. Shooting just 38 percent from the field against a hot-shooting Blue Devil team, a halftime deficit became even bigger in the second half, but the Cavaliers managed to stick around. With 6:21 to go in the second half, Duke led by 13 points at 56-43, and it seemed lucky that that was the whole margin.
All of a sudden, though, the Cavaliers (12-5, 3-1 ACC) found their stride. They went on a 20-7 run, capped off by an 11-0 run, and tied the game at 63. After a free throw put the Blue Devils (13-4, 2-2 ACC) up 64-63, sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon nailed two free throws to take a 65-64 lead. A dramatic 3-pointer from Duke sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon made the game 67-65, but Virginia had 13.5 seconds to work with. After inbounding, senior center Akil Mitchell tried to find senior guard Joe Harris in the paint, but sophomore Amile Jefferson deflected his pass. Duke was able to hold on to the ball in the ensuing scrum and escape with a 69-65 victory.
“It’s a play that we practice at the end of practice every single day,” Harris said. “It’s something that we work on pretty religiously. We all felt pretty confident that we would get a clean look. … The pass was just a little bit lower than we would have liked, and Jefferson was able to tip it.”
Virginia’s near comeback was all the more shocking given the team’s start to the game. It took the Cavaliers almost five minutes to land their first basket of the game as Duke built an early 8-0 lead. Virginia would trail for the entire half, shooting a miserable 30.4 percent from the field as the Blue Devils hit nearly 50 percent of their shots. The Cavaliers could do little more than hang close in the game, going into halftime down 36-28. Senior guard Joe Harris had just five points on 1-for-4 shooting in the half, while much-touted Duke freshman Jabari Parker had just 3 points.
“They did such a good job of locking and trailing, making it hard for Joe,” head coach Tony Bennett said. “I thought in the first half there were too many offensive rebounds and miscommunication. Then they got some threes and that hurt us.”
The second half brought a marked improvement on both sides of the ball. Virginia picked up its shooting percentage to 43.8 percent, and though the Cavaliers were not able to overtake Duke until the final minute, they stayed within striking distance. Both Harris and Brogdon looked dangerous, scoring inside and outside for the team and providing strong defense. Brogdon would finish with a team-high 17 points, but Harris was right behind him with 15.
“I thought [Brogdon] was good,” Bennett said. “He was tough, made some big plays, and guarded well. It is hard when Duke spreads you out and with the new rules emphasis you try to keep your hands off, but it is hard to keep guys in front. For the most part, I thought our guys did a good job of keeping their hands off and making them shoot contested shots.”
Despite the success, Duke still managed to push the lead. Sulaimon poured in 21 points to pace the Blue Devils, who shot 45.5 percent from 3-point range in the game. Late in the quarter, though, Virginia turned the corner.
“[It was] just hitting shots, getting stops, exactly what we do,” Mitchell said. “We kept pushing, they let up in a few areas, and let us back into the game.”
Brogdon’s go-ahead free throws came with 36.5 seconds left on the clock, and Duke advanced the ball looking to answer. After a miss by sophomore Rodney Hood, Duke rebounded; Sulaimon got the ball and launched a 3-pointer from the corner. It hit the rim, bounced high into the air, but ultimately found the net.
“Boy, if we could have grabbed that one and then been in a different position,” Bennett said. “We scrambled back and Rasheed hit that tough one. I was with him all summer and I said “Why did you have to do that to us?” That thing was up on the rim, then bounced and just hung there. There are soft rims at Duke and that paid off for them this time.”
Virginia’s attempted response fell short, but Bennett was careful to take the loss in stride.
“To have a one point lead, I told the guys not to hang their heads about that,” Bennett said. “We have time to improve. My line to them was: had we won, it wouldn’t have made our season, and had we lost, it wouldn’t break our season. … That thing could have gotten away, but they fought and scrapped and they will have another chance at that.”