In Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s final appearance in Charlottesville, Virginia basketball — on the back of an incendiary performance by senior guard Kihei Clark — gave the coach a farewell to remember, with a nail-biting finish ultimately not going the Cavaliers’ way. After leading by as many as five in the first half, the size and speed of the Blue Devils (24-4, 14-3 ACC) were simply too much to overcome, even in front of what was by far the best home crowd Virginia has seen all season. Clark would lead the Cavaliers (17-11, 11-7 ACC) in scoring with 25 points, while sophomore guard Jeremy Roach led Duke with 15.
After Duke won the tip, both teams struggled to score offensively until Clark hit a three with just over four minutes gone to put the Cavaliers up 7-2 and nearly take the top off of John Paul Jones Arena. On the other side, Duke scored a couple of times in the paint, but beginning ice-cold from beyond the arc did not bode well for the Blue Devils overall. With 14:46 remaining, the teams regrouped for the first media timeout with Virginia holding a three-point advantage.
Clark then took it upon himself to be the offense for the Cavaliers, hitting two more shots from deep — eclipsing the number of three-pointers made by the entire team during the first matchup against Duke — to push the Cavaliers’ lead to 13-9. After a drought by both teams, however, Duke took the lead with a jumper by sophomore guard Jeremy Roach and maintained a 15-13 advantage with 8:31 left in the first half.
Duke would stretch the lead to as many as four points, but despite a scoring drought, Virginia was easily in striking distance. And tonight, the Cavaliers had a not-so-secret weapon — Clark. In Virginia’s last home game against Krzyzewski, the senior made sure Duke would never forget him, as three more threes in a span of just two minutes gave him 18 points for the half — all of which came from three — and Virginia a 22-17 lead with 4:32 remaining after the Blue Devils called a timeout to regroup. Coach Tony Bennett was extremely impressed with Clark’s ability to keep the Cavaliers in the game.
“[Kihei] kept us in it offensively,” Bennett said. “Kihei was really all we had pretty much early … but yeah, that was quite a first-half shooting performance.”
After a quick 6-0 run by Duke to regain the lead, a shot clock-beating jumper by sophomore guard Reece Beekman made the score 24-23 to reclaim the lead. The Blue Devils would finish the half with the upper hand, however, as freshman forward Paolo Banchero scored with four seconds remaining in the half, bringing Duke to a 30-25 lead heading into the intermission. Clark scored 72 percent of the team’s points in the first half, so for the Cavaliers to pull out a win in the second half, other players would have to step up in the face of a top-10 Duke team.
Having more balanced scoring was evidently a priority for Virginia coming out of halftime, as buckets from Beekman and senior forward Jayden Gardner forced Krzyzewski to call a quick timeout just 1:25 into the second half. The Blue Devils would then extend their lead to as many as six before ultimately holding a 37-32 lead with 15:50 remaining.
A tough swing for the Cavaliers resulted in an old-fashioned three-point play from junior forward Wendell Moore to keep Duke up five, but excellent defense from Beekman paired with the re-emergence of a mid-range shot from Gardner kept Virginia in the game at the second media timeout.
The Blue Devils were able to keep the Cavaliers just out of reach for much of the middle of the second half. Just when Virginia cut the lead to 45-42 — with the home crowd at the loudest it had been all half — Roach was able to silence the crowd with a layup, and Duke held a 49-42 lead with 8:02 remaining, tying its largest of the game up to that point. Would the Cavaliers have a final push left in them?
The answer after just two more minutes of play seemed to be yes. Beekman — no stranger to hitting big threes against Duke — cut the lead to 52-49, causing the Blue Devils to call a timeout with just under six minutes remaining. After cutting the lead to just one, Virginia had a couple of chances to take the lead — and should have had one more if not for a tough loose ball foul against Gardner — but could not find the bottom of the net, leaving the score 52-51 with 3:48 remaining.
Freshman forward A.J. Griffin hit a massive three to put Duke up four, but junior guard Armaan Franklin answered with a floater of his own. The teams would again trade three for two before Bennett called a timeout with the Blue Devils up 58-55. A questionable jump ball call gave Duke another chance to boost their lead, but Virginia’s defense held up. The very next possession, however, Virginia turned the ball over, leading to a Blue Devil runout to make the score 62-57.
A quick two by Gardner cut the lead to three, and with 25 seconds left, Duke called timeout. If Virginia could get a stop defensively, it would have a chance to tie with the last shot. Unfortunately, Virginia was fouled and freshman guard Trevor Keels making one of two shots was enough to ice the game, as Duke would survive a layup by Clark by making two more shots from the foul line to put the game out of reach and win 65-61.
“One thing Duke did today was when they had a breakdown they made us pay,” Bennett said. “That’s what good teams do.”
While not ideal for Virginia’s NCAA tournament hopes, a loss to a quality team like the Blue Devils is certainly not a deal-breaker. In order to have a shot at getting an at-large bid, however, winning the last two games of the regular season is suddenly more important than ever. The Cavaliers are now officially in just-keep-winning mode for a shot at getting a ticket to the Big Dance.
The Cavaliers will stay at home this weekend, as Florida State comes to Charlottesville Saturday. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m., and the game will be televised on ESPN2.