A Loss of Control
Duke and Virginia waged a struggle for control of the character of the game. The Blue Devils took control of that early, and eventually that was what let them seize control of the game after the last media time out. The teams went into the under four TV time out at 3:33 with Duke holding a 61-60 lead and the ball. The Blue Devils scored the next 6 points to go up by 7 with just a minute left in the game. R.J. Barrett scored back-to-back baskets in the decisive minute. Barrett then closed out his 30 point output with 4 straight free throws to seal the victory.
Odd to say in a game Virginia scored 70 points that Duke won the game with defense, but that is what I will say. They did not make a lot of steals (5) or force a ton of turnovers (8); they did not block a lot of shots (1); they let Virginia shoot a good percentage (53%). What they did do was take away Virginia's game, and force Virginia to play their game. They made it into an NBA game, and they are the better NBA team. The Blue Devils switched everything - ball screens, handoffs, off-ball screens - and would not let the Cavaliers have enough of the shots they like to get into an offensive rhythm. "We felt that we could not defend their baseline floppy curls. They're so good," Krzyzewski explained after the game. "So we just said, we're going to try to limit their open 3s, and we did a really good job of that with the switching." As a result, the Hoos were only 3-17 from three and missed enough of the decent looks they did get to allow Duke's avatars the initiative. Duke's defense was successful in making it a dribble drive game on both ends of the court, and Duke is better at that game.
The bright spot for Virginia is that very few other teams in UVA history would have been able to stand in against the Devils in that kind of game the way this one did. It was exactly the kind of game where most Virginia teams have disintegrated in Cameron. Ripped from their normal offensive patterns, unable to stop the other team's best players, most Virginia teams have fallen apart in those circumstances. Not this one. While not able to stop Duke's Marvel Comics superheroes, they were able to get in some blows, and stopped everyone else, even projected lottery pick Cam Reddish, who was 3-12 from the floor. And the Hoos offensively did quite well in the NBA game: De'Andre Hunter showed why he is a projected lottery pick, as he was nearly unstoppable himself. Hunter led Virginia with 18 points, converting on 8-12 from two-point range, including several avatar plays of his own. Ty Jerome also succeeded often enough at that game to beat almost any team, going 5-8 from 2-point range and adding 4 assists to only 1 turnover. In a game of this character, 4 assists was really good. Jerome finished with 14 points, as did Kyle Guy, who punched above his weight class with 4-5 from inside the arc.
Where Virginia's offense failed was the two places you would expect them to succeed: the stripe and the arc. Denied the room or the rhythm they normally get, Virginia's big three were held to 3-14 on 3FGA. It was the free throws, however, that really hurt. At the end of the first half, with Duke having scratched out a 5-point lead on the strength of 9 offensive rebounds on 18 missed shots, Jerome drove hard to the basket and was fouled before his shot by Marques Bolden (back when they were calling fouls on Bolden). Virginia was in the bonus, and a pair of free throws would have sent them into the locker room down just 3. Jerome, whose season FT% is a full ten points below where a player of his calibre should be, missed the front end. In the second half, Hunter missed a free throw that would have given Virginia the lead. Jerome was 1-3 from the line, and Hunter 2-4.
In the end, Duke won because of Marques Bolden, Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. Bolden, if you remember, was a top 20 recruit, the #1 center in his class, and one of those recruits who suddenly picks Duke late, giving Krzyzewski just the player needed to fill out the roster. He's 6-11 and long, and has plus lateral movement for a guy his size. In this game, that allowed him to switch onto Jerome and play close enough to him to deny the three and deter passing, because Bolden was difficult enough to get around to allow Duke's defense to contest Jerome's finishes. When the refs decided they weren't going to foul him out on a hand foul, it allowed him to chuck drivers as they went by and slow them down. Virginia was able to get past Bolden many times and score on the matchup, but it was all 2-point plays.
Williamson and Barrett simply overpowered the Virginia defense. Williamson scattered Virginia's interior defense like an ent surrounded by orcs with his preternatural strength, and Barrett overpowered Virginia's guards. Williamson ended up with 27 points and 9 rebounds, going 10-16 from the floor and 7-14 from the charity stripe. Barrett led all scorers with 30 on 11-19 from the floor and 7-11 from the line. Those two players, who should be on NBA rosters, were simply too much for the best college team in America.
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