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Devils Win A Squeaker, 61-58 Over Virginia

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By Jim Sumner

Duke and Virginia had a lot of prove last night. Duke wanted to re-establish its dominance after a lackluster week that ended with critics questioning their chemistry, toughness and passion. Virginia wanted to prove that its lofty national ranking was the result of more than just a schedule loaded with the Towson States and Maryland-Eastern Shores of the world.

Virginia won the battle but lost the war, falling to Duke 61-58 in a tight, physical game that wasn't decided until the clock read zero.

The Duke-Virginia rivalry hasn't been all that riveting lately. Going into Thursday's match-up at Cameron, Duke had won seven straight in the series, 15 of the last 16. Most of those Duke wins were one-sided.

But this year promised to be different. Virginia came to Durham on a 12-game winning streak, their longest in almost two decades. Virginia is ranked No. 16 in the AP poll, their highest ranking since 2002.

Tony Bennett's third Virginia team has accomplished this with a ball-control offense and a suffocating defense that allows barely 50 points per game, best in the ACC and second in the NCAA.

If Virginia's defense was the immoveable object, Duke's offense was the irresistible force, a test for whether Virginia was ready for prime-time, ready to challenge the Duke-Carolina hegemony of the ACC.

The contest was a battle of will, expressed in tempo. Duke wanted to run, Virginia wanted to waltz. After all, the Cavs have won five games this season without breaking 60 points. They're comfortable in slow motion.

Virginia jumped on Duke early, 5-0 and 7-2. Duke took one-point leads four times in the first half but couldn't get any separation from the Cavaliers, in part because Mason Plumlee missed five consecutive foul shots in a span of 1:27 leaving Duke stuck on 14 for way too long.

Andre Dawkins tied the game at 21 with a 3 and again at 24. But the final minutes of the first half were a disaster for Duke, as Akil Mitchell dunked for 29-26 and Scott hit a three right before the buzzer to put Duke down 32-28.

Duke's first-half woes were myriad. Quinn Cook started at the point but only played nine minutes after Jontel Evans blew by him several times early. Duke missed 10 of 13 from beyond the arc and had some sloppy turnovers trying to force the ball inside.

But mostly Duke didn't have anyone named Mike Scott, who hit from inside, outside and in-between, to the tune of 16 points, on 7-10 shooting. Think ACC Player of the Year shortlist.

Stopping Scott was essential for a Duke comeback.

Duke didn't exactly stop him but they contained him. Miles Plumlee explains how. "We knew he was one of the best big men in the country. We just had to play him more physical in the second half, not play off him as much."

Mike Krzyzewski agreed, maintaining that the physicality of the Brothers Plumlee was the key to holding Scott to seven second-half points. In fact, Krzyzewski went to his thesaurus for Mason, praising his "verve and resolve to go to take the ball to the basket."

Mason scored inside three times in the first four minutes of the second half, the last of these baskets putting Duke up 38-36.

Tony Bennett said his team did a poor defensive job on Mason during this span. "He made some plays. But I thought we got a little outside ourselves in terms of gambling, missing a rotation or just not being sound."

Virginia tied it at 38 but Duke went on a surge, forcing a few turnovers and getting some transition baskets, the most important a monster dunk by Miles Plumlee off a defensive rebound and 70-foot assist by Tyler Thornton.

Ryan Kelly said Duke put it all together during this period. "We were getting good looks and we just needed to get on a little run and knock down some shots and get some stops. We had been playing really good defense. We brought it all together in that little run."

Miles Plumlee's dunk made it 45-38. The route was on.

Actually it wasn't. This is not the Virginia team we've seen in recent years. They kept crashing the boards, getting scramble rebounds and second-chance points. And Duke kept missing from the line, not just Mason (who ended 2-10) but also big misses down the stretch by Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly (twice).

Virginia had two chances to tie on threes in the dying seconds, called "hectic" by Seth Curry. But Mike Scott missed badly and Jontel Evans not so badly. Mason Plumlee cradled the last of his seven rebounds, as the packed crowd roared its approval.

Krzyzewski called it a "terrific" game and I can't disagree with that. He also said that he thought Duke played better than the final score indicated and I can't disagree with that either. Duke shot 8-19 from the line and was outrebounded 35-30. But Duke also shot 53 percent from the field and held Virginia's Sammy Zeglinski scoreless. Virginia was 3-16 from beyond the arc, Duke 5-20.

Dawkins made two of the bombs but Krzyzewski was even more impressed with Dawkins' defense, which he called the best Dawkins has played at Duke.


Duke had now won 44 consecutive games at home

Tyler Thornton went into the game having made seven consecutive three-point field goals. That streak is intact, as Thornton did not attempt a three.

Quinn Cook started the second half but went out early after an unforced turnover and did not return. Duke productively used the Seth Curry-Austin Rivers-Andre Dawkins perimeter on several occasions. So, the lineup either remains a muddle or has an attractive versatility. Depends on how you look at it.

Dawkins scored 10 points, hitting two three-pointers, two foul shots and a two-point field goal. Each of these four scoring efforts tied the game.

The 61 points allowed was only the second time Virginia has allowed more than 58 points this season. They beat Seattle 83-77 earlier this season.

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