A Virginia fan prematurely yelled “air ball” as one of Duke freshman R.J. Barrett’s five first-half 3-pointers made its way through the net Saturday at John Paul Jones Arena.
A smirking Barrett put a single finger to his lips, quieting the crowd. Even though No. 3 Virginia cut No. 2 Duke’s lead to single digits time and time again, the Blue Devils kept finding ways to silence the Wahoos’ faithful in an 81-71 victory.
It’s Duke’s second win over Virginia (20-2, 8-2 ACC) this season. The Blue Devils (21-2, 9-1 ACC) also won, 72-70, on Jan. 19 in Durham, North Carolina.
After North Carolina’s near-loss to Miami on Saturday, the Tar Heels (19-4, 9-1 ACC) and Blue Devils are tied for first place in the ACC. Virginia hits the road on Monday to face UNC.
“We just have to keep trying to tighten up and be as sound as we can,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “The formula doesn’t change. Maybe little adjustments here and there, but there isn’t much time. It’s just get yourself ready, grow from this and come out and hopefully be more ready.”
Barrett connected on his first five 3-point attempts. His fifth trey gave the Blue Devils a 29-15 lead with a little more than eight minutes left in the first half. Cam Reddish added two treys in the opening stanza, and Zion Williamson knocked down his only attempt from the perimeter in the game’s opening 20 minutes.
Barrett finished with a team-high 26 points and went 6-for-10 from 3-point range. As a team, Duke went 13-of-21 from beyond the arc.
“RJ has played outstanding, but he’s been disappointed because he wants to be great,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He had tremendous preparation for this game and you could see right away that he was lathered up and he got us off to such a good start.”
In the second half, it was Reddish who couldn’t miss from 3-point land. He went 3-for-4 from the perimeter in the first five minutes of the half, and even when he missed, Barrett was there to grab an offensive rebound and score on a putback. Reddish’s third trey of the half gave Duke a 52-41 lead with 15:13 to play.
Reddish finished with 17 points and went 5-of-8 from beyond the arc, while Williamson scored 12 of his 18 points in the first half.
“I thought we were a little slow to our closeouts. We really tried to jam the lane and keep them out of the lane, but we probably overcorrected in terms of that,” Bennett said. “I think we were a little lazy with our hands. You’ve still got to bother shots, but our hands were low and that’s not how we do things.”
De’Andre Hunter was the only Cavalier having any success for the first 15-plus minutes of game time, but Virginia came to life late to cut Duke’s lead to 39-35 at halftime.
Kyle Guy, in particular, overcame a slow start and sparked the comeback. After missing his first five shots of the night, he scored all eight of his first-half points in the final three minutes.
“It was one of my poorer performances in the first 15 minutes of the first half,” Guy said. “There were a lot of uncharacteristic things and unacceptable things for a third-year captain who has been there and done that. I think I just needed to settle down.”
After Guy knocked down his first three, freshman Kihei Clark followed with one of his own to cut Duke’s lead to 36-30 with two minutes left in the half. With Reddish in his face, Guy hit another 3-pointer to again bring Virginia within six. He ended the half with a drive and finish to send the Wahoos into the intermission trailing by just four.
Guy and Jerome both finished with 16 points, while Hunter added 11.
“For us to beat a team like Duke, we’re going to have to play a cleaner game in a few areas,” Bennett said. “You have to take care of the ball and hold them to one and done’s, and we didn’t do that. To beat a team the caliber of Duke, those things have to be at a high, high level, and I don’t think they were high enough tonight.”
With a little more than 12 minutes to play, Jay Huff hit the court and closed the distance for Virginia again. In a span of about two minutes, he blocked a shot, nailed a 3-pointer and fed a slick bounce pass to a cutting Braxton Key, who finished with a layup to cut Duke’s lead to 54-49.
Jack Salt got into the action late with a pair of powerful dunks to keep Duke’s lead in single digits, but Barrett struck again with his sixth 3-pointer of the night to stretch it back to 10.
Ron Counts covers University of Virginia athletics for The Daily Progress. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, (434) 978-7245, or on Twitter @Ron_CDPsports.