DURHAM, N.C. — For a fleeting moment, Virginia’s hard luck at Cameron Indoor Stadium was seemingly over. Two decades of missed opportunities and frustration were nearly flushed when Malcolm Brogdon’s reverse layup slipped through the net for a one-point lead with 9.9 seconds showing on Saturday evening.
No such luck.
Coming out of a timeout at the six second mark, Duke’s Grayson Allen drove the lane and hoisted an off-balance shot over the outstretched hand of UVa’s Marial Shayok, the ball banking off the backboard and into the basket as time expired. The shot set off a wild frenzy in the ancient arena where miraculous endings are commonplace.
Duke 63, Virginia 62.
Blue Devils players dog-piled Allen in a midcourt celebration as the Cavaliers stood in stunned silence as replays of the shot painfully relived the moment on the overhead scoreboard. The Virginians could relate, having staged an even more astounding buzzer-beating win at Wake Forest three weeks ago, reversing the fortunes of their season.
“Wow, wow, wow,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, summing up the finish on his 69th birthday, one he will likely never forget. “I think both teams were deserving of winning. They could have won, but we did. I thought we earned it. If they had won, they would have earned it.”
Coach K said the basketball gods were good to his team, which battled back from an 11-point, first-half deficit. For Virginia, Cameron Indoor, a place where the Cavaliers haven’t tasted victory since 1995, was the same old purgatory.
While message boards back across the state line claimed Allen had traveled before letting the winning shot go, Virginia coach Tony Bennett was in somewhat of agreement as he needled Krzyzewski in the traditional handshake line.
“I kind of joked with Coach K afterward and said, ‘I think he traveled,’ and [Krzyzewski] said, ‘I think he got fouled,’” Bennett smiled.
There are no mulligans in basketball, so Bennett had to accept the defeat and leave the Bull City with self-pride intact. The Virginia coach said his team will learn lessons from this road defeat just as in the previous four road losses. The Cavaliers don’t have long to lick their wounds with North Carolina State coming to town on Monday night.
“This stings, but I give thanks,” Bennett said. “I told our guys that they battled and showed some mettle in a super-charged environment. We will learn from it and we will grow.”
Certainly it was a battle of brilliant coaching strategies. Duke, low on personnel due in part to senior forward Amile Jefferson’s foot injury, switched to a four-guard lineup, forcing the Cavaliers to adjust. Bennett switched star Malcolm Brogdon from guarding Allen to red-hot Brandon Ingram late in the first half and again in the second as the Duke forward went on a scoring spree with 18 consecutive points during one stretch.
Krzyzewski was keenly aware that Brogdon and point guard London Perrantes were responsible for the majority of Virginia’s 3-point shots and wanted to take away that part of the Cavaliers’ offense. That’s exactly what his defense accomplished.
UVa made only 2-of-11 shots from behind the arc, Brogdon going 1-for-6, while Perrantes, the league’s top 3-point shooter, didn’t even attempt a 3-point shot.
Duke’s defense, which had been its Achilles’ heel for much of the season, had finally arrived. The Blue Devils had relied heavily on their offense, eighth-best in the nation at 84.3 points per game, because the defense just wasn’t the typical suffocating style the Blue Devils had been known to play.
Opponents have always found it difficult to run offense against Duke, but with its shortcomings in that phase of the game, Krzyzewski realized early in the season that his team would simply have to beat teams with offense.
“We weren’t as tough as we are now,” Coach K said of his defense. “There are certain portions of the game where I don’t care how you draw up your offense or defense, you just have to be tough. You have to fight through tired, fight through somebody not playing as well and get them going at that point. We’ve talked about it, we’ve met on it, and they’re doing it now. It has paid off.”
Defense had to be present to stop the ACC’s hottest team, seventh-ranked Virginia, which entered Cameron on a seven-game winning streak. However, it was Ingram’s offense that allowed the Blue Devils to get back into the game after Virginia dominated a six-minute stretch of the first half.
Still, Virginia’s streak of misfortune at Cameron came down to the final 10 seconds of another ACC thriller diller.
Allen faltered at the free throw line with 27 seconds to play, missing two free throws and unable to build on a 61-60 lead. With the clock ticking down, Shayok, standing just behind the free throw line, spotted Brogdon down low, underneath the basket and shot him the pass.
Brogdon scored on a difficult reverse layup for the lead, setting up the final scenario.
Krzyzewski called time out because he wanted the ball in either Ingram’s or Allen’s hands. Those are the two Duke playmakers that Krzyzewski knew could improvise. That’s exactly what Allen did.
“I really wanted to attack the basket just because throughout the game I’d been having success, even kicking the ball out,” Allen said of his plan. “If [Virginia] were to help off, I was going to kick it out and find a shooter.
“But I felt like I had the lane and I felt like I had my man one-on-one, so I knew [Shayok] was going to be strong and body up, so I just knew I was going to go through that and go to finish,” Allen said. “I honestly wasn’t [counting seconds during the drive]. I knew I had enough time to make a move and take a couple of dribbles, but thankfully I got it off in time.”
The Cavaliers must feel hexed as their 21 years of frustration continued. Of the 17 straight losses at Cameron, the last two have come down to the final shot of the game, Jefferson bouncing one in two years ago, and now Allen.
“This will test us,” Bennett said of his team, now 20-5. “We have to stay true to who we are.”
Unbeaten in Charlottesville is part of who the Cavaliers are, and John Paul Jones Arena will never have looked so good come Monday night.