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Duke Takes It To Virginia 81-71

And may have seized control of the ACC race

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Duke v Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - FEBRUARY 09: RJ Barrett #5 of the Duke Blue Devils shoots over Kyle Guy #5 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the first half during a game at John Paul Jones Arena on February 9, 2019 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

Duke used a stunningly efficient offense to defeat Virginia 81-71 Saturday night, solidifying their claim to the top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The win was Duke’s second of the season over the favored Cavaliers, Duke’s fifth win in six games over Virginia, the third straight in Charlottesville. The fact that the win came on the road, against a more-rested Virginia team makes it more impressive.

As does the method of the victory. Duke hasn’t had many flaws this season but three-point shooting has been one of them. And Virginia typically defends the three as well as anyone. Recall that Duke hit 2-of-14 on threes in the earlier game against Virginia.

But lo and behold, R.J. Barrett knocked down a three 20 seconds into the game, then another, then Zion Williamson, then Cam Reddish, then Barrett again, 5-for-5 on three-pointers in the first six minutes, pushing Duke to a 17-9 lead.

”Three-pointers are there every game,” Barrett said. “It’s a matter of if you make them or not. Today they were there and we made them. When I hit the first one, personally I knew I was going to have a night. We just kept rolling, kept making them, making them and making great plays.”

“I thought R.J. has played outstanding,” Mike Krzyzewski added, “but he’s been disappointed. He wants to be great. He really had unbelievable preparation for this game, and you could see right away that he was lathered up. He got us off to such a good start.”

Duke extended its first-half lead to as much as 14 and still led by double digits with 2:50 left, after Reddish hit a three to make it 36-24.

“We got out to an early lead and I was able to inspect the defense and we were able to attack the hoop much more,” Tre Jones said.

But Virginia is too good, too tough, too well-coached to go away quietly, especially with the John Paul Jones Arena crowd spurring them on. Kyle Guy scored eight points in the final 2:33 and Duke led only 39-35 at intermission.

Off an 11-3 run, Virginia entered the final stanza with Big Mo on their side.

It didn’t last long.

Jones scored on a layup--he was scoreless in the first half--then Reddish rattled in a three and the teams settled down into a dogfight.

Duke could never put away the ‘Hoos but they never blinked either. Virginia never got closer than four points in the second half.

Barrett cooled off a bit in the second half--how could he not--but Reddish and Jones picked up the slack. Jones scored 13 points in the second half, none bigger than a three-pointer that made it 57-49, after Virginia had closed to five.

Virginia got it to five one more time, at 66-61, before Williamson found Marques Bolden for a layup.

Jones sewed it up, rebounding a missed Barrett free throw, drawing a foul and knocking down a pair of freebies, making it 78-69.

Yes, the 6-1 guard had six rebounds, to go along with seven assists and two steals.

“You know first of all, I thought [Kihei] Clark did a great job on him,” Krzyzewski said of Jones.

“That was a great adjustment on their part. Probably [Ty] Jerome is not 100%, but he’s playing. . . . We changed our point of pickup in the second-half, because we weren’t getting anything. He was putting good pressure, and we started to do a little brush-screen to give Tre some room. Tre’s not given much credit for his shooting, scoring with passing and defense, but tonight he made a couple big-time shots, especially when he split the ball-screen there late.”

Reddish continued his solid defense and an upward trajectory on offense, with 17 points, three assists, three steals and two blocks.

“His defense has gotten so much better,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s just playing stronger. He was good before, but his shots weren’t strong. His whole game has gotten stronger. He went on a flurry for a little bit, which he can do. We see him getting better and better.”

“I told our guys after for us to beat a team like Duke and the way they’re playing, we are going to have to play a cleaner game in a few areas,” Tony Bennett said. . [Duke] was quicker to the ball, they are terrific athletes, strong-handed, they snatched some out of our hands, some loose turnovers that led to the breakaways and then a couple careless ones here and there. You can’t beat a team like Duke, especially when they are shooting at that clip. . . . when you look at it, Tre Jones makes them a different team, I knew that. He brings a level of toughness and ball-handling, sureness, touch in the paint, and then defensively, he’ll get after you. We had some chances to be in there but, not enough. My hat goes off to a team that played very well today.”

Krzyzewski summed up the big win.

“As good as the game in Durham was, this was better. I thought both teams played outstanding basketball tonight. It was tough to single out a kid. We were fortunate we won. It’s the best we’ve shot from the three-point, and obviously, it’s a huge difference. They’re outstanding, and we’re really good too and it was that game. We feel very thankful that we won. I’m proud of my guys, but we beat a heck of a team, and they’re a great program. We’re just obviously very pleased.”


Barrett led everyone with 26 points and led Duke with seven rebounds. That includes a career-high six three-pointers, on 10 attempts. Williams (18) joined Barrett, Reddish and Jones in double figures.

Guy and Jerome led Virginia with 16 points. Jerome played 37 minutes after missing the Miami game with back pains. But Virginia did lose Mamadi Diakite for much of the game after he collided with a teammate.

Duke only played seven players and only got two points from its bench, a Jack White layup in the first half. Freshmen scored 74 of Duke’s 81 points.

Duke shot 13-of-21 from beyond the arc.

Williamson’s 18 points give up 502 on the season. Barrett has 531. This is the first time Duke has ever had two 500-point scorers after 23 games.

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