Virginia’s lack of firepower, mismatches in paint, lead to implosion at Duke

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: Duke Athletics

From the opening minutes, you sensed this was going to be a long night for struggling Virginia.

The Cavaliers, who have been shackled by an anemic offense, particularly on the road, floundered on both ends of the floor at rowdy Cameron Indoor Stadium as 10th-ranked Duke had its way in an easy 73-48 win.

With obvious mismatch advantages in the paint, the Blue Devils dominated Virginia from wire-to-wire, leaving UVA on the brink of elimination from the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Perhaps the only actions that preserved the Cavaliers from falling out of third place in the ACC were similar shortcomings by Clemson and Wake Forest, both losers on Saturday, allowing Syracuse to leapfrog them into fourth in the standings.

UVA was a 9.5-point underdog coming into Cameron, but Duke covered that spread before the sporting public could blink. Virginia’s Pack-Line defense had no answer for Blue Devils big man Kyle Filipowski, who finished with a game-high 21 points as Duke outscored the Cavaliers 44-18 in the paint and owned the glass, 42-29.

Six of Duke’s first seven baskets came in the paint before Filipowski drilled a 3-pointer for a 19-6 lead. The Devils held Virginia scoreless for more than nine minutes from that point on, bolting to a 40-18 lead at the break.

Game. Set. Match. Call in the dogs, piss on the fire, this hunt was over.

“Our only chance was to somehow jam the lane and not give them the stuff at the rim, but they just sort of got down the floor and pretty much got to the rim whenever they wanted, and we were a bit rattled,” said Tony Bennett of his team, which has dropped three of its last four games and failed to reach 50 points in those setbacks.

The Cavaliers are now 21-9, 12-7 in the league, and now considered a bubble team with one regular-season contest to go (Georgia Tech comes to Charlottesville on Saturday).

While UVA’s defense figures to bounce back, its offense is another matter.

“We have some limitations, there’s no secrets on that,” Bennett said. “I think [Duke] just really made us speed up and rushed and we missed little ones.”

Virginia changed up some offensively, using middle ball screens and more movement, but Duke was just too overpowering.

“We looked like a very inexperienced team that was overmatched from the start,” Bennett said.

It didn’t take UVA long to implode, particularly in the frantic Cameron surroundings where inexperienced teams can come unglued in a hurry. With Reece Beekman being the only Cavalier to have played at Cameron, his younger teammates were somewhat bewildered by the environment.

“It’s a tough place to play,” said UVA sophomore guard Isaac McKneely. “Coach Bennett, his message before the game was, ‘Take it all in at first … cool experience … but after that, block out the crowd.’ I don’t think the crowd was as much a factor as our lack of play.”

Duke held Virginia to a mere 23-percent shooting in the first half, the lowest first-half shooting percentage by a Blue Devils opponent this season. All that led to the 25-point final margin, Duke’s largest in the series with UVA since 2009, the year before Bennett was hired.

For Filipowski, it was just another step in his team’s progression, nothing personal against Virginia, which held him scoreless in a controversial Cavaliers win in Charlottesville last season.

“I don’t have anything against Virginia, but obviously, there’s still a little reminder in the back of my head about going to Virginia and not scoring and how it ended and all that,” Filipowski said. “That was probably one of the worst games of my collegiate career. Obviously, it’s good to keep me on my A-game mentally, but it’s nothing personal at all.”

Still, Virginia left Durham scratching its head over what it must do to kickstart its offense and pull itself out of the late-season nosedive.

Duke copied what every ACC team has thrown at Virginia’s offensively-challenged lineup. It hounded McKneely at the 3-point line and attempted to contain Beekman, which is easier said than done.

McKneely got off 11 shots, more than usual of late, but only 5 from beyond the arc (made 2 triples) for 12 points. Beekman, who is almost unstoppable, finished with 18 points (7 assists) and made 7 of 15 shots, relentlessly attacking the basket. Beekman, by the way, with 3 steals, broke Othell Wilson’s 40-year-old Virginia record for most career steals.

“He’s doing everything he can,” Bennett said of Beekman, reminding that the last time Beekman played in Cameron that he delivered a winning 3-point dagger with 1.1 seconds to play in that game. “He’s got character and he wants to win, and I know when we show up for practice, he’ll be ready to go.”

The rest of Virginia’s offense didn’t offer the two leading scorers much support, although sophomore Ryan Dunn added 9 points and was more actively hunting scoring opportunities.

UVA has the rest of the week to iron out its offensive issues in preparation for Senior Night and visiting Georgia Tech, a game the Cavaliers cannot afford to lose.