No. 12 Duke pulls away from No. 14 Virginia, 65-55
Blue Devils, Tatum spread out Virginia pack line after break
With shades of former Duke star Brandon Ingram in the second half of last year’s matchup between the two ACC programs, freshman forward Jayson Tatum hit dagger after dagger on Virginia’s pack line defense and the Blue Devils overcame a four-point halftime deficit to win, 65-55, Wednesday night at John Paul Jones Arena.
Tatum scored 21 of his game-high 28 points after the break. Finding his rhythm, the former No. 2 overall recruit drained six of seven threes on the night, including five of six in the second half. Not many in attendance would’ve guessed Tatum is shooting under 32 percent from three on the season.
His consecutive makes from downtown at 2:48 and 1:58 extended Duke’s lead to 54-44 in a flash.
“I feel like we played pretty well defensively,” senior guard London Perrantes said. “There was one time [Tatum] had the ball with five seconds on the shot clock at half court and still ended up making the shot … Isaiah did a good job contesting, doing things like that, he just made some big shots.”
Fueled by a sell-out crowd, Virginia jumped out to a 9-2 lead early in the contest. A two-handed jam from sophomore forward Jack Salt started off the Cavalier run, sending orange and white streamers flying. Two possessions later, junior forward Marial Shayok rattled home a three on the right wing to make it 5-0.
The Blue Devils eventually narrowed the gap behind back-to-back threes by a pair of talented shooting guards, junior Grayson Allen and sophomore Luke Kennard. Duke grabbed its first lead at 12:03 after the only player ranked higher than Tatum in the class of 2016 — freshman forward Harry Giles — turned and hit the baby hook.
Contributing five points, three rebounds and two steals, Giles brought great energy on both ends while senior leader Amile Jefferson was hobbled and in foul trouble.
Throughout the first half, the Blue Devils’ soft trap beyond half court on whoever was bringing the ball up made it difficult for Virginia to operate with a shorter shot clock. Off the ball, Duke kept its defensive pressure up, forcing the Cavaliers to work to get open. Tough, contested shots were the main reason Virginia entered the half with only 25 points on 32.1 percent shooting.
“Credit to Duke — they really guarded us hard,” coach Tony Bennett said. “It was one of those games where you had to work to get catches. I thought we had decent shots in terms of what we could get against them without being able to throw the ball inside and score.”
Despite its first-half shooting woes — especially from three, where the Cavaliers hit just three of 12 attempts — Virginia did enough defensively to disrupt the Blue Devils and to hold a first-half lead, albeit a slim one. Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s bunch turned the basketball over eight times and, at 33 percent, didn’t shoot it much better.
Allen was one of seven for three points; Kennard one of six for three; and Tatum one of two for seven.
Attentive to how a cramped floor had limited his trio of offensive creators, Krzyzewski made an adjustment at intermission, spreading out his guards and sending screeners, which proved to be effective.
Duke came out fast in the second half, producing an off-balance bucket by junior guard Matt Jones and a fast-break finish by Tatum. Soon after, Tatum nailed the first of his second-half trifectas to tie it at 25.
“What they started to run is what we do in practice, with the random ball screen action where the guard didn’t dribble, so he could either pass or make a move and the big guy was rolling,” Perrantes said. “That’s when they got into their rhythm at the beginning of the second half. We talk about it all the time in practice, how hard it is to guard.”
In the aftermath of another Tatum dagger at 10:41, the Cavaliers regained composure. Freshman guard Kyle Guy crossed over, stepped back and hit his only three Wednesday, causing Allen to trip himself. Virginia trailed by just one point, 43-42. Then Tatum went off, all but sealing the deal.
Though he shot only three of 10 for the game, Kennard recorded 16 points — thanks to nine of 10 free throws he sunk in the second half. Duke went to the line 20 times compared to the Cavaliers’ eight trips. Dealing with an ankle injury, Allen chipped in five points, hitting on only two of his 10 attempts.
Checked by a solid defender in Jones, Perrantes led the Cavaliers with 14 points but on just four-of-11 shooting. Freshman guard Ty Jerome — who hit several huge baskets when the game was in reach — tallied 13. Junior guard Devon Hall contributed eight on four-of-10 shooting.
Virginia shot a season-low 36.8 percent for the contest.
The guy that had to carry the load inside — junior forward Isaiah Wilkins — didn’t have his most efficient night on the floor either. He missed on four of five looks.
“I’m going to continue to take open shots when they’re there,” Wilkins said. “If I don’t, it makes us struggle a little bit more because nobody is playing me.”
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Cavaliers, as they’ll travel to rowdy Chapel Hill, N.C. for College GameDay to face No. 10 North Carolina at 8:15 p.m. Saturday.
“You really want to win,” Bennett said. “But it’s a fine line, and we are in so many close games. This ball club has some limitations in certain areas, and we are fighting like crazy … In this one we played hard, but we were outplayed.”