Duke Made Threes: Lots of Them

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Talking heads will analyze No. 2 Duke vs. No. 3 Virginia – The Rematch, all day long Sunday and into Monday night’s games. No need. The Blue Devils’ recipe to success in an 81-71 win over the host Cavaliers was as simple as cornbread.

Duke made 13, count ‘em, 13 three-pointers.

Yeah, I know, I know. UVA committed 14 turnovers — third straight game of double-digit turnovers for the Cavaliers — and Duke converted several of those miscues into 17 unanswered fast break points. Yes, that was a big deal.

Nothing though deflates a team faster than watching an opponent rain 3-pointers on them all game long.

“When [Duke] hit 13 threes, they are going to be hard to beat,” said UVA guard Kyle Guy, who knows a little something about 3-pointers.

Consider this a chess match in sneakers. Down at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the first game a few weeks ago, a 72-70 Duke win, the Blue Devils killed Virginia in the paint, scoring 46 points while shredding the Cavaliers’ vaunted “Pack-Line” defense.

Now, the premise of Tony Bennett’s “Pack-Line” is to clog the lane and make opponents beat them from the perimeter. Everyone knew that after UVA was chewed up in Cameron’s paint, that Virginia was going to tighten up its defense in the lane for Round 2, and that’s exactly what Bennett did.

Mike Krzyzewski knew this, too. He hasn’t posted more than 1,100 wins — more than any coach in major college basketball history, and a few Olympic gold medals to boot — by not being one step ahead.

Virginia essentially chose its poison, taking a gamble that Duke couldn’t win from the perimeter.

The logic was sound. Coming into the game, Virginia was the nation’s No. 1 team in 3-point field goal percentage defense (24.7), and Duke, believe it or not, ranked No. 317 out of 351 Division I teams in the country in 3-point field goal percentage (30.8).

All the Cavaliers had to do it seemed was clog the middle and watch the Blue Devils miss from outside.

Somebody forgot to tell R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish.

Between the two talented Duke freshmen, they made 11 of 18 from beyond the arc. Tre Jones, who missed the first game against UVA with a bum shoulder, tossed in another and phenom Zion Williamson, made the only one he attempted. That’s 13-for-21 for anyone counting. Sixty-two percent, more than double Duke’s normal rate of makes.

Virginia must have felt the sky was falling. The Cavaliers played well. They shot 47 percent, outscored Duke in the paint, outrebounded the Blue Devils. Just couldn’t stop the “rain of terror.”

Duke posted the highest shooting percentage from the field against Virginia since 2010, when Washington connected on 58 percent of its shots in an overwhelming win over the Cavaliers on the road.

The Blue Devils hit 57.8 percent of their shots Saturday night, 26-for-45.

“We tried to keep Duke out of the lane and jam the lane,” Bennett said. “We probably over-corrected in terms of that.”

The Cavaliers were slow on closing out, leaving their man and racing out to harrass shooters at the arc. They didn’t get their hands up either when they weren’t late.

“But we did jam the lane, so we had that going for us,” Bennett half-joked.

If 62 percent for the game wasn’t frustrating enough, how do you think the Cavaliers felt in the first half when Duke’s 3-point makes were a staggering 73 percent (8-for-11)?

“I think we are a team that doesn’t get fazed very easily,” Guy said. “Obviously when they hit five in a row and seven out of eight, it is hard because it is an uphill battle all game.”

Still, Virginia chipped away from its largest deficit of the game — 14 points — at 29-15 with 8:11 remaining in the opening half, to a mere four points by the break, 39-35. The Devils didn’t relent. They opened the second half with three more early bombs to provide an 11-point cushion and kept it at a comfortable margin most of the rest of the way.

It didn’t help UVA’s cause that it lost forward Mamadi Diakite, who scored seven points in only 10 first-half minutes, after he collided heads with teammate De’Andre Hunter. Diakite never returned to the game and was reportedly feeling “foggy.”

While Duke, now 21-2 overall and 9-1 in ACC play, relied on outside shooting when it found its path to the basket blocked by the “Pack-Line,” Krzyzewski declined to take credit for the strategy.

“I don’t think it’s anything I did, but my players felt it,” Coach K said. “Maybe that little room, they took advantage of it without any kind of coaching. Really good players make coaches look pretty good, pretty smart.”

Even when UVA closed the first half on an 11-3 run and matched Duke early in the second, Krzyzewski found ways to counter.

Both in Durham, and again in Charlottesville, the Blue Devils took away most of Virginia’s baseline 3-pointers. So the Cavaliers countered with an inside triangle, Jack Salt and Guy, Salt and Ty Jerome. At halftime, K’s assistant, Jon Scheyer, came up with an idea on how to defend it.

Guy and Jerome finished with 16 apiece and De’Andre Hunter 11, but it just wasn’t enough to overcome a Duke team with freakish athletes, three of which are projected to become lottery picks in the next NBA Draft.

Even NBA legend LeBron James, considered by some as the greatest player of all time, had to be impressed. James, a friend of Krzyzewski’s, sat under one of the baskets to watch the Blue Devils’ array of talent.

He likely reacted like the rest of sold out John Paul Jones Arena when Williamson, who has an off the charts vertical jump, came out of nowhere to swat Hunter’s 3-point attempt into the crowd. Hunter was in the corner and must have wondered how Williamson could have gotten to the shot.

“I think there are two people in the world that can make those plays and they were both in our gym tonight,” Bennett said, referring to Williamson and James. “Special talent… that’s a gift.”

Virginia, now 20-2, 8-2, has the unenviable task of a quick turnaround, playing at No. 8 North Carolina on Monday night.

The Cavaliers, the only team to have faced Duke twice thus far this season, can’t afford to let the Blue Devils beat them twice.


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