You really can't blame Tony Bennett. He's smart enough to realize that Virginia's only chance to beat Duke was to turn the game into a half-court slog through the mud and hope Duke lost interest. Boring the opposition to death probably isn't a good long-term plan but Bennett is in only his second year in Charlottesville and his best player is out for the season, so you really can't blame the man.
You probably know by now that I don't think you can ever take an ACC road win for granted. Sneer if you like but better teams than this year's Duke team have lost on the road to worse teams than this year's Virginia squad. And Duke will likely play a few more games this season against teams inclined to use as much of the shot clock as possible, so a little practice can't hurt.
It also was another chance for Nolan Smith to impress us with the depth and variety of his skills. Scoring 22 points in an up-tempo game is impressive, scoring 22 in a 56-41 game is something else.
Although Duke never trailed by much, it took the Blue Devils a few minutes to find their rhythm. The first few minutes one hoped that court-side spectators were wearing head-gear. A 10-0 Virginia run put Duke down 12-7 but eventually the combined weight of Smith, Duke's considerable size advantage and Virginia's lack of scoring options turned the game into a Duke win that was pretty comfortable after the first 10 or so minutes.
Duke made its decisive break in the middle of the first half. Smith hit a 3 to tie the game at 13, another to put Duke up 16-15 and Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly combined on a highlight-reel pass and dunk to make it 18-15. Then Kelly hit a bomb. The run reached 10 before Virginia stopped the bleeding.
This blitz only took a few minutes but it put Virginia in a hole bigger than the score suggested. Virginia just doesn't have the firepower to score points in a hurry or overcome big deficits. A spectacular three-point play by Smith put up 34-26 at the half. Only eight points but it seemed bigger than, say, 54-46.
Duke got its first double-digit lead at 37-26 on a Smith dunk and pretty much traded baskets with Virginia the remainder of the game. Despite Kyle Singler picking up his fourth foul early in the second half, one never sensed that either team really thought the outcome was in doubt.
Smith didn't get his usual help from Singler. Foul trouble kept him on the bench and he just never got into the flow. But Plumlee, Plumlee and Kelly provided another solid state line--22 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks-- and played big inside, forcing Virginia to score from outside. Virginia got a few easy baskets but not remotely enough to pull off the upset.
Duke had some dry spells on offense in the second half but maintained a consistent level of defense. It's hard to hold any ACC team to 15 points in a half, especially on the road.
So, a fifth-straight ACC road win, the fifth straight win since the St. John's game and 24-2 and counting overall record. Not too shabby.
Nolan Smith has now scored at least 20 points 15 times this season.
Six of Duke's last nine games have been on the road, with the Devils going 8-1 over that span. Duke plays three of its final five regular-season games in Cameron.
Duke now has won 16 of their last 17 games against Virginia. Since that infamous 109-66 loss to Virginia in the 1983 ACC Tournament, Duke has gone 50-11 against Virginia.
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