Duke Dethrones the Last Remaining Undefeated Team Virginia in ACC Showdown

    In a rare clash between the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll and the No. 1 team in the Coaches Poll, AP No. 1 Duke defeated Coaches No. 1 Virginia 72-70

    January 19, 2019

    In a rare clash between the No. 1 team in the AP Top 25 poll and the No. 1 team in the Coaches Poll, AP No. 1 Duke defeated Coaches No. 1 Virginia 72-70 Saturday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium in one of the biggest regular season matchups in college basketball.

    It was Duke’s first game playing without injured point guard Tre Jones. With Jones wearing street clothes on the bench, Duke dethroned the country’s last undefeated team in a statement game that affirms the Blue Devils’ place among the country’s best, despite a home loss to Syracuse and the potentially more damaging loss of their starting point guard.

    In the absence of Jones, who is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country, Duke resorted to a huge starting lineup with four forwards and a center. Six-foot-seven forwards Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Jack White started alongside 6-8 forward Cam Reddish and 6-11 center Marques Bolden.

    The shortest Blue Devils player to see action was 6-6 guard Alex O’Connell.

    It was a unique but expected rotation as Duke is forced to adjust and adapt without its point guard.

    Duke’s top three scorers had a near monopoly on the team’s scoring and ball-handling duties.

    RJ Barrett scored 30 points – his fourth 30-point effort of the season – on 11-of-19 shooting as he continually attacked the rim. It was the efficient scoring night Duke needed after Barrett took 17 threes, making four, in Duke’s overtime loss to Syracuse on Monday.

    Zion Williamson added 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting and Cam Reddish, who missed the last game with an illness, chipped in nine points on 3-of-12 shooting. The uber-talented trio scored 66 of Duke’s 72.

    The Blue Devils didn’t have a fifth player score until center Marques Bolden made a free throw with 1:09 left in the game.

    It was an ACC heavyweight clash that lacked three-point makes and assists as each team tried to capitalize one-on-one against the mismatches created by Duke’s forward-heavy lineups.

    Virginia swung the ball until it found a favorable matchup with the ball in the hands of guards Ty Jerome or Kyle Guy against Bolden. Defensively, Duke switched one through five, given the positional versatility and length it had throughout its lineups.

    Bolden often proved to be the weak link defending off the dribble against Virginia’s crafty guards, which led to athletic forward Javin DeLaurier getting minutes off the bench before fouling out with 5:41 to play.

    Meanwhile, Duke spread out Virginia’s pack line defense and tried to beat the country’s No. 2 defense one-on-one in isolation. Barrett and Williamson used their size against guards Jerome, Guy and Kihei Clark.

    They had the speed to get around Braxton Key and Mamadi Diakite. Williamson was even able to get the better of De’Andre Hunter, a strong defender and potential lottery pick who has the physical makeup to keep up with Duke’s future top-five NBA draft picks.

    Duke switched to a 2-3 zone just before the under-8 timeout in the second half with Barrett and Reddish playing atop the zone, giving the Blue Devils an incredibly imposing front line of pressure.

    For roughly a 14-minute span in the second half, it was a one-possession game in Durham as the two sides traded layup, dunks and free throws with jumpers sprinkled in between.

    It wasn’t until a jumper from RJ Barrett put Duke up 63-60 and Guy missed a wide-open, three-point look from the left wing against Duke’s zone that the Blue Devils were able to go up by five after another basket from Barrett. Duke was able to extend its lead to seven after a pair of free throws by Bolden and Virginia followed the missed three by Guy with a deep, contested three from Jerome that was off the mark.

    Then Hunter missed a right-handed layup from the left side. Duke made just enough free throws to hold on, despite an 18-of-31 (58.1%) performance from the line in the game. The Blue Devils were even worse from three – 2-of-14 (14.3%) – as were the Cavaliers – 3-of-17 (17.6%).

    Only two threes were made after halftime and just one in the final 16 minutes, as Duke’s individual talent on the wings and late shift to zone reigned supreme when neither team could buy a shot from deep.

    Duke’s win at home means there isn’t a single undefeated team left in the country and AP poll voters might vault No. 3 Tennessee to the top spot after the Blue Devils’ loss to Syracuse.

    Duke’s win over Virginia, which has dominated the ACC in the last year and a half, in its first game without a critical player in starting point guard Tre Jones showed that the Blue Devils might still be the best team in the country. In the loss, the Cavaliers were every bit the Blue Devils’ equal for about 58 minutes and luckily, we’ll get Duke-Virginia Part II in Charlottesville on February 9.

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