The term “hard-fought win” is something of a cliche. But Duke’s 66-65 win over Virginia Saturday night was a hard-fought win.
Mike Krzyzewski sure thinks so.
“It’s sad that fans were not at this game. It was an epic game. This was a great basketball game tonight. Every possession was fought. It seemed like every dribble at times. They’re veterans and they played like it. They’re so poised and they play great defense and our kids played great defense tonight too, and came up with some really big plays.”
It seemed a game that was destined to come down to the final possession and it did just that. Jaemyn Brakefield put Duke up 66-65 with just under two minutes left and Duke shut out the Cavaliers after that, holding on as Kihei Clark missed a 3 at the buzzer.
Duke jumped to a 6-0 lead on 3-pointers by Matt Hurt and Jeremy Roach. But the Cavaliers outscored Duke 15-5 to take a 15-11 lead.
After that neither team led by more than five points.
Virginia had that five-point lead at 25-20. But Braefield and Matt Hurt led Duke back and the Blue Devils took a 39-36 lead into halftime.
Hurt had another great shooting game. He hit 4 of 5 from beyond the arc in the first half. But Brakefield was as important a story line. Duke started Mark Williams at center but replaced him with Brakefield early.
“Jaemyn made it work, because he played so well,” Krzyzewski said. “[Jay] Huff is a great player. He and [Sam] Hauser are two of the top players in America. Jay is such a good basketball player, his footwork, his touch, his ball-handling. Mark hasn’t guarded anybody like that. Jaemyn was able to move his feet better. We didn’t want to switch all the time but when we did he was able to stay pretty much in front of Clark and our guards really fought Huff. It was a lot of communication. For our young team, they had to communicate a lot tonight and they made really outstanding decisions on the defensive end of the court.”
Brakefield scored nine straight for Duke in the first half, three layups and a 3-pointer, that spectacular two-and-a-half minutes turning Virginia’s 25-20 lead into a 29-25 Duke lead.
“I just knew once they went up, we had to remain calm and just stay in the game,” he said. “We knew we were always in the game. Just making those plays, that’s why you come to Duke.”
“Brakefield saved us early on in the game,” Hurt said. “He had a lot of energy and was attacking Huff.”
Duke was shaky in the early part of the second half as Huff had three dunks in 95 seconds. But Hurt tied it on an old-fashioned three-point play and Duke settled down.
“I think my teammates and my coaching staff did a great job of giving me confidence,” Hurt said. “I wasn’t playing well a couple of games stretch but my coaching staff and teammates believed in me. I got some extra work in practice and tried to be aggressive.”
The second half was about as back-and-forth as 20 minutes of basketball can be. Clark converted a 3-point play to put Virginia up 56-51, with 6:54 left. But Virginia would score only nine points the rest of the way.
- D.J. Steward hit a 3 to tie the game at 56 and Hurt tied it at 58 with a jumper, then Roach at 60 with another jumper.
Virginia had a 65-64 lead and the ball with 2:44 left when Brakefield made the first of two big plays down the stretch, blocking Clark.
It was the last of Brakefield’s four blocks on the evening.
“He’s worked real hard,” Krzyzewski said of Brakefield’s breakout. “The big thing for him is learning to be more physical. He is ball friendly and he can shoot so there is a part of him that is more perimeter oriented and he’s just constantly working with Nate . . . to understand the physicality. He can move his feet. It’s a learned experience and you can only learn it by playing in these games.”
But Duke still trailed. The Blue Devils got the ball to Brakefield on the wing where he was staring down the 7-1 Huff, the same Huff who blocked 10 shots against Duke last season.
Brakefield did not hesitate.
“Throughout the game I was seeing that he was coming up. I was just feeling him behind me and so I felt him coming up and that was something I was planning on doing the whole game.”
Brakefield’s reverse layup put Duke up one. But he missed the subsequent foul shot and Steward missed the first end of a one-and-one with 11 seconds left.
But Duke’s defense held on, including a key sequence when Hurt forced Hauser into a tough baseline jumper, which he missed.
“Whatever shot he was taking, it seemed like he was going in,” Hurt said. “I was just trying to make it tough on him.”
“A huge win for us,” Krzyzewski summed, “and well earned. I’m really happy for our guys.”
The win moves Duke to 10-8 overall, 8-6 in the ACC and gives Duke the signature win it desperately needed for its NCAA aspirations.
Virginia drops to 15-5 and 11-3.
Duke doesn’t have much time to celebrate, with Syracuse coming to Cameron Monday night. The last time Duke had a Saturday-Monday turnaround, it didn’t end well, with a bad Monday loss to Miami.
Hurt says his team has learned its lesson.
“We’re just going to try to keep getting better every day. We play a really good Syracuse team Monday night. We can have fun tonight but tomorrow we’re going to have to get ready for that for sure.”
Hurt led everyone with 22 points, including 5 of 8 from beyond the arc. Hurt has scored 68 points in Duke’s last three games, all wins.
Brakefield ended with 11 points, Roach with a dozen. But Wendell Moore came in for special praise from Krzyzewski, who called his 5 rebound, 7 assist, 1 turnover effort “yeoman” like.
Henry Coleman also gave Duke a big lift off the bench, converting two offensive rebounds in the second half, the first ending a four-minute Duke scoring drought.
Huff (20), Hauser (19) and Clark (15) provided Virginia with most of its firepower. But Duke did hound Clark into 5 for 15 shooting and 3 turnovers.
Virginia outrebounded Duke 32-22—Huff had 12-but had 13 turnovers to Duke’s 10.
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Player Of The Game vs. Virginia
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