RJ Barret the hero for Duke Blue Devils against Virginia Cavaliers
No. 1 Duke and fourth-ranked Virginia kept trading baskets — and the lead — down the stretch of another classic at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Here’s the difference: The Blue Devils had RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and a defense that —even without key on-the-ball defender Tre Jones— flipped the script on the Cavaliers.
Barrett scored 30 points. Williamson had 27 and Duke gave Virginia its first loss of the season by beating the Cavaliers 72-70 on Saturday night.
“We did a lot of switching tonight, and we were able to move their defense enough — just enough, not every time — to get some driving lanes,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
The Blue Devils (15-2, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) bounced back from an overtime loss to Syracuse that could cost them their top ranking. They avoided their first two-game losing streak at home since 2016 and proved they can win without Jones.
DeAndre Hunter scored 18 points. Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy had 14 apiece for the Cavaliers (16-1, 4-1). Cavs entered as the nation’s last unbeaten after No. 2 Michigan was upset at Wisconsin earlier in the day. Virginia allowed Duke to shoot 63 percent in the second half — and hit 12 of 15 shots inside the 3-point arc — while giving up a season-high point total.
“We’re a solid defensive team,” coach Tony Bennett said, “but tonight, we were not solid enough.”
The fourth matchup of top-ranked teams in the sport’s history — Virginia entered at No. 1 in the coaches’ poll — was a tournament-caliber game throughout. There were 14 ties and 15 lead changes, and it was a one-possession game for a 14½-minute stretch of the second half.
“If you scored, you beat good defense,” Krzyzewski said. “If you didn’t score, good defense beat you.”
After the Cavaliers missed 11 of 12 shots during a late nine-minute stretch. They pulled within 69-66 on Guy’s 3-pointer with 23 seconds left. Barrett hit two free throws with 20.9 seconds to play. Therefore Virginia let too much time elapse before Braxton Key was fouled with 8.9 seconds remaining and hit both shots to make it 71-68.
Cameron Reddish hit a free throw to make it a four-point game. Before Hunter hit a jumper before the buzzer for Virginia.
With one key freshman out — Jones — the Blue Devils rode the three other members of their freshman class to a significant victory. Williamson, Barrett and Reddish combined to take 47 of Duke’s 51 shots and score 66 of their 72 points.
“Coach K gives us the freedom to be us,” Williamson said. “When there’s movement for the three of us, no telling what we can do.”
This was the Blue Devils’ first full game without Jones. He separated his AC joint in his right shoulder early on in the defeat against Syracuse. Jones watched from the bench in a polo shirt but without a sling. Duke had just six assists on 26 baskets after averaging 18 assists in their previous 16 games. Krzyzewski said there’s still no timetable for Jones’ return.
The Blue Devils have a few days to recover. As they visit Pittsburgh — coached by former Duke player and assistant Jeff Capel — on Tuesday night.