Virginia made a big statement Saturday evening, taking down No. 7 Duke 52-50 in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers (21-7, 13-5 ACC) extended their winning streak to six games with the win over the Blue Devils (23-6, 13-5 ACC) and cemented their case for an NCAA Tournament bid.
“Losing taught us a lot of things,” senior forward Mamadi Diakite said. “We put our head down and focused on what we could control, and now we’re here.”
Virginia was led by a monumental performance from junior forward Jay Huff, who posted 15 points and 10 blocks. Diakite and senior guard Braxton Key also played key roles, contributing 14 points each, as Virginia found much of its scoring in the paint.
“The difference maker for them was Huff,” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He had his best game today, especially in rim protection.”
On the other end of the court, the Cavaliers flexed their defensive muscles all night, holding Duke’s offense to its lowest scoring total of the season.
“[Diakite] really made some nice plays too, and he at times allowed us to not double [Duke freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. ],” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “[Diakite] had that look in his eyes, and so when [Diakite] is guarding like that and [Huff] is protecting the rim, that’s a formidable two.”
Virginia jumped out to an early lead behind its strong packline defense. Key led the drive with a jumper for the first points of the night, but Carey responded with a three-pointer to give Duke its first lead. The Cavaliers were quick to continue their offensive momentum, however, pushing ahead 9-5 at 15:08 with points from Huff, Key and Diakite.
The Blue Devils found their footing in the ensuing minutes, going on a 11-4 run as Jones and Carey led an offensive drive. As Virginia missed four of its attempts from the field, Duke pushed ahead 16-13 with just under 11 minutes remaining in the half.
Following a layup from Duke junior guard Jordan Goldwire, Virginia sophomore guard Kihei Clark floated a pass up to Huff, who sank the layup — getting the Cavaliers back into rhythm. From there, Huff took control of the game, converting two dunks that sent the Virginia faithful into mayhem and giving the Cavaliers a 21-18 lead with 3:50 to play in the first half.
While the teams traded points through the rest of the half, Jones sank two free throws to tie up the game 25-25 heading into the break. The Cavaliers edged the Blue Devils from the field, shooting 44 percent to Duke’s 30 percent. While Virginia largely set the pace for the first half, the Cavaliers’ seven turnovers allowed Duke to keep the game tight.
Huff was outstanding for Virginia in the first half, scoring 10 points to go along with four rebounds and six blocks against his hometown team.
“I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t get a little bit more amped up for Duke games,” Huff said. “I grew up going to Duke games. I have a picture of Coach K on my fridge back home.”
The Blue Devils ran out of the break with a sense of urgency, speeding up their offense in the opening minutes as DeLaurier, Stanley, Carey and Moore added to the score. Although Clark sank his first three-pointer of the night, Duke kept the pressure on, leading 33-28 at 15:55. Duke was able to take advantage of the Cavaliers in part due to the brief absence of Huff and Diakite on the floor, as the duo collided when going up for a rebound and subsequently went under evaluation for head injuries.
After a near five-minute scoring drought, Key entered double digits with a dunk. Clark followed up with a jumper, but four Virginia turnovers proved costly and allowed the Blue Devils to hang onto a 37-32 lead at 12:19. Unlike the first half, Duke found numerous fast-break opportunities, as it looked to take advantage of an unset Virginia defense.
The game then shifted course, however, and the Cavaliers found their offensive rhythm as they embarked on a 7-2 run. A Huff dunk, Diakite three-pointer and difficult reverse lay-up from Key tied up the score 39-39 with under 10 minutes to go.
Both defenses were in shutdown mode in the following minutes and Huff recorded his ninth block of the night. Diakite was able to tie the score at 45 with a pair of free throws at the under five minute mark. On the other end, Jones responded with a deep three-pointer to give the Blue Devils the advantage, but Key was ready with an answer to put Virginia back on top 49-48 with 2:31 left in regulation.
In a nail-biting finish, the Cavaliers stifled Duke on defense while Diakite added a layup to give Virginia a 51-50 lead. With seconds to go, Carey was blocked, and following a Huff free-throw, Jones missed a prayer three-pointer, allowing the Cavaliers to secure the upset victory, 52-50.
“You have to make plays defensively as much as offensively, and they were both made,” Bennett said. “Duke is so good defensively, I don’t know if we could’ve found any more points than 52.”
Virginia plays its final away game of the regular season against Miami Wednesday night in Coral Gables, Fla. Tipoff is set for 9 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.