Playing without its starting point guard and looking to bounce back from a loss earlier in the week, No. 2 Duke picked up its biggest win of the season Saturday by taking down the nation’s best team.
The second-ranked Blue Devils handed No. 1 Virginia its first loss of the season, holding off the Cavaliers in Durham, 72-70, in a back-and-forth ACC matchup between the nation’s top-ranked teams.
While Virginia’s highly-disciplined offense controlled much of the game’s tempo and its nation-leading defense made things difficult throughout, this star-powered Duke team turned to its two dynamic playmakers — national player of the year candidates R.J. Barrett (30 points) and Zion Williamson (27 points). Both players, projected to be the top two NBA draft picks, made key plays in crunch time when it mattered most.
De’Andre Hunter paced Virginia with 18 points, while Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy each added 14 in the loss. The Cavs shot just 18 percent from beyond the arc, although Duke was actually worse at 14 percent.
The Blue Devils couldn’t find much offensive life outside of Williamson and Barrett’s combined 57 points, as fellow freshman star Cam Reddish (the team’s hero last weekend vs. Florida State) finished just 3-for-12 from the floor and no other Duke player reached double figures.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski called Tre Jones, Duke’s freshman point guard who’s out with an injury he suffered in Duke’s loss to Syracuse on Monday, the team’s “most important player” pre-game because of how he facilitates the offense — making the upset victory all the more impressive. Duke is No. 2 in the coaches poll, but No. 1 in the Associated Press poll.
This Final Four-flavored January showdown lived up to its billing, with more than just an ACC title on the line as both teams entered the matchup as national championship contenders and favorites to notch No. 1 NCAA tournament seeds. Virginia suffered its first loss since a devastating upset to No. 16 seed UMBC in last year’s Big Dance. Most players from last year’s roster returned from that team and coach Tony Bennett’s group has fed off that pain throughout the first half of 2018-19.