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Duke stymies upset bid

Cold-shooting Cavaliers fail to convert on open looks at basket in 56-41 loss; Smith burns Virginia

When the Virginia men's basketball team scored 42 points against Maryland Jan. 27, it was the team's lowest total ever at John Paul Jones Arena. Less than three weeks later, Virginia set a new record low for scoring on its home court.

The Cavaliers (12-13, 3-8 ACC) fell 56-41 against No. 5 Duke (24-2, 11-1 ACC) last night, shooting just 28.6 percent from the field. The team managed only 15 points during the second half.\n"I'm frustrated because I feel like we're better than that," coach Tony Bennett said. "Let's call it what it is, you've got to be able to make some baskets. You can't be in a game if you're shooting that percentage or struggling offensively like that."

After two weeks away from home - and two more road losses to its name - Virginia sought to regroup within familiar confines. Senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan went 3-for-15 from the field during the team's previous game against Florida State, but appeared to recover last night, scoring seven early points. Sophomore guard Jontel Evans, meanwhile, scored a layup to give Virginia a 15-13 lead with 10 minutes left in the first half. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, it would be their last lead of the night.

Fifty-six seconds after Evans' go-ahead basket, senior guard Nolan Smith drilled a three, giving Duke a 16-15 advantage. Virginia's offense sputtered during the second half, and the cold-shooting squad scored a mere four points during the half's first nine minutes. Senior forward Will Sherrill missed the game because of injury, and after losing senior forward Mike Scott earlier in the season, the Cavaliers' lineup looked decidedly undersized. The team lacked a strong interior presence, and consequently was forced to rely heavily on perimeter shooting.

"When when we get a little cold from the outside and we're not hitting shots, it's a struggle for us to score points," Bennett said. "When the three-point ball is off, it becomes a strain on us offensively."

Virginia's top shooters did not escape the offensive woes. Farrakhan and freshman guard Joe Harris entered Wednesday night's matchup averaging 13.2 and 10.5 points, respectively, but the two combined for only 19 points on 6-for-25 shooting against Duke. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils' star guard lived up to his hype. Smith leads the conference with 21.4 points per game, and finished the night with 22.

"When they needed a bucket, Nolan Smith just took over," Bennett said. "You saw why he's the player he is."

Apart from Smith's strong effort, Virginia turned in a typically stingy defensive performance, limiting Duke to its lowest point total of the season. Bennett is known for his emphasis on defense, but the team's offensive woes recently have outweighed any positives on defense. The game marked the third straight home outing during which the team failed to break 50 points.

"We don't just work on defense, it is the primary focus and primary for the coaches, but we work a lot offensively," Harris said. "We do a lot of drills, a lot of finishing drills, shooting drills, and I can't tell you why the shots aren't falling."

Harris admits that when those shots don't fall, it can be frustrating for the young squad.

"As a shooter, you look for the next one to get in, and then you look at the next one to go in and then if you don't get that it's kind of dejecting," Harris said. "It does take its toll on the team."

As the team braces for in-state rival Virginia Tech, however, Harris said the Cavaliers will not let an offensive cold streak freeze their intensity.

"It doesn't do any good to hang your head and break away from the team or be upset because you're losing," Harris said. "That's when we bond together, and we really want to dig in and show the character of our team and individually as well"