As the young Blue Devils appear to be surging
In a game that really had huge elements of drama, Duke pulled off a 66-65 win over Tony Bennett’s Virginia team in Cameron Saturday night.
The Blue Devils really needed a win to keep any NCAA hopes alive and they got a great one over a Virginia team that got clobbered last time out at Florida State.
Like all Tony Bennett teams, they’re just about impossible to kill. Unless you go full UMBC and smoke them completely, they’re incredibly dangerous in a tight game because they rarely beat themselves, least of all Kihei Clark.
Yet Clark made a fateful error that underscores how much a simple mistake can cost: he stumbled with time running down which delayed Virginia’s last attempt. His shot ended up as a pass to Jay Huff, who dunked it a fraction of a second after the light went off.
Despite that, Huff really had a good game and was a very difficult matchup for Duke, which started Mark Williams but used Jaemyn Brakefield on the much bigger Huff for much of the game. And with 1:59 left on the clock, Brakefield drove on Huff, who is five inches taller, and just barely got a reverse layup over Huff’s fingertips to put Duke up 66-65. He missed the free throw, but those were the last points scored in this game so it ultimately didn't matter.
What did matter was the guts the freshman showed, and that he showed the entire game. Brakefield came off the bench in the first half and didn’t just spark Duke. He gave it a shot of swagger and bravado that was really key for any game, but especially Virginia.
To us, outside of Virginia’s brilliant run to the NCAA title two seasons ago, the enduring, iconic image of this team, or rather about it, was a Harvard player standing next to Tommy Amaker and so frustrated that he was about to burst into tears. Because Virginia can take that much away from you.
Not this time.
This young Duke team, suddenly growing up in a hurry, figured out how to counter everything Virginia threw at it. The Cavs had a five point lead 56-51, with 6:54 left and at that point in a game, with that program, a five point lead may as well be 15 because if you make a mistake, they’ll just make you pay.
But Duke fought back.
Wendell Moore hit a jumper to cut it back to three. Jordan Goldwire stole the ball from Sam Hauser, who was also terrific for Virginia, and hit DJ Steward for a three.
Virginia went up again but couldn’t stay ahead and certainly couldn’t build a significant lead.
Huff hit a pair of free throws with 3:10 left to give the ‘Hoos a three point lead then DJ Steward drove and faked his defender in the air and hit a baseline jumper to cut it to 65-64.
Then Brakefield, showing yet more swagger, blocked a Clark layup with 2:26 left and came down and scored his epic drive over Huff.
With 1:59 left, Virginia had four more shot attempts but couldn’t get any of them. And with :12 left, Goldwire went to the floor to fight for the loose ball and Duke had the possession arrow.
On the first inbounds, Virginia fouled Hurt, giving them six and on the second, they put Steward on the line.
If he had hit them, Duke would be up three and overtime was the worst possibile outcome, assuming no one did anything foolish.
But he missed and Huff got the ball. Then Clark stumbled.
Do you remember the UNC-Villanova championship game?
There was a play near the end where Isaiah Hicks had just a fraction of a second of doubt and that minuscule slice of time meant that he couldn’t get to the shooter.
That’s all it took, literally the blink of an eye, a should-I-or-shouldn’t-get-him moment that was huge for Villanova.
Clark’s stumble was about the same thing. He brought the ball up against Goldwire and suddenly found Hurt, who is a foot taller, in front of him, after Huff screened. He went to dribble between his legs and lost the ball for just a brief second with 3.8 left.
All Virginia needed was one basket. Huff, who has transformed himself from a terribly thin player as a freshman to a very solid big man now, first waited for a pass from Clark for a three but Clark had bobbled the ball. By the time he was ready to attack Hurt again, Huff had headed in for a potential pass or rebound.
By the time Clark was ready to strike, the clock was down to 1.2. He got a brilliant pass off to Huff, who was in position to dunk with and only the much smaller Steward to contest him, with 1.0 left.
The shot clock went off before Huff left the ground and Duke celebrated one of the best and most important wins it’s had in quite some time.
There are a lot of guys who deserve praise after this game and it’s not entirely fair to single anyone out but Brakefield deserves special praise, not just for his amazing shot over Huff but for his energy and fearlessness the entire game. He was beautiful.
Jim will be along with his take shortly.
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- Rapid reaction: Three takeaways from Virginia’s 66-65 loss to Duke
- No. 7 Virginia drops a tight game at Duke and falls out of first place in the ACC