How Virginia beat Duke in Cameron? You have to look deeper than the box score

Mike Krzyzewski summed up Saturday’s loss to Virginia concisely like 20 other coaches on the wrong side of a score with the Cavaliers have in some manner have said all season.

“They made us not play well,” offered Coack K after Virginia handed his team a 65-63 loss Saturday afternoon in a showdown of top four teams.

But a quick glance of the final statistics of the game doesn’t paint a very promising picture of a Virginia win. The Cavaliers didn’t shoot particularly well, their best defensive player Isaiah Wilkins (as expected) got into early foul trouble and was basically a non-factor on the afternoon, and their top sub of the bench De’Andre Hunter sat on the bench in the waning minutes of the game that came down to the wire with a bum ankle. The lone glaring stat in the Cavaliers favor was the turnover battle where Duke committed 16 to a mere five for Virginia.

So what exactly did propel Virginia to their first win in Durham since 1995, a year in which no current Cavalier was even born ? A number of things that don’t always appear in the final box score.

While turnovers are certainly a key component to the outcome of a game, it’s not always how many-but when they occur. The Blue Devils had 16 turnovers today, but it was a crucial turnover in the game’s final minute and change that may have sealed Duke’s demise. Trailing 60-58 with 1:10 to go, with a chance to draw even or possibly take the lead, Duke tried to push the ball down the floor, but the pass was intercepted by Ty Jerome. Thirty seconds later, Jerome nailed a long three-pointer that pushed the Cavaliers lead to five with 38 seconds remaining.

The game was certainly a tale of two halves. The Cavaliers appeared headed for a lopsided win after the first 20 minutes of play. Virginia displayed to the Cameron Crazies why it was the best defensive team in the nation, holding Duke to a mere 22 points in the opening half and lead 32-22 at the break. Duke responded in the second half displaying why it had the second-leading offense in the country. Led by certain first pick NBA draft player Marvin Bagley III, who finished with 30 points and 14 rebounds, the Devils erased a 35-22 Virginia lead to actually take a four-point lead.

Duke shot 59 percent (17-29) from the floor in the second half .

The Blue Devils went to a 2-3 zone defense, which momentarily discombobulated the Virginia offense. Missing some open looks, the Duke zone apparently caused some brief hesitation in the Cavaliers before the shot.

Fatigue. Yep, Duke’s starters played the entire second half. And it showed at some critical times down the stretch. The Blue Devils were a split second late to the ball on a couple of occasions and the Cavaliers made them pay.

Virginia’s defense is the for real. Again Coach K.

“Our guys have not been in a game like that,” said Krzyzewski . “The level of intensity and the high level of defense and offense they play I thought knocked us back.”

It was the fewest points Duke had scored in a game this season: 78 was the next fewest, in a 78-61 win over a non-ACC foe in November. On Saturday the nations second-best offense scored just 63 points, and it took 43 second half points to reach that.

So if you add up all those little things, they came up pretty big for Virginia today. But for those of us that follow this team regularly (OK, religiously) why should we have expected anything different?
Story by Scott German

Scott German

Scott German covers UVA Athletics for AFP, and is the co-host of “Street Knowledge” podcasts focusing on UVA Athletics with AFP editor Chris Graham. Scott has been around the ‘Hoos his whole life. As a reporter, he was on site for UVA basketball’s Final Fours, in 1981 and 1984, and has covered UVA football in bowl games dating back to its first, the 1984 Peach Bowl.