Cavs fade vs. No. 1 Duke
Cavaliers have lost halftime leads against UNC, Duke
Virginia’s six-point halftime lead evaporates at Cameron Indoor Stadium in a 76-60 loss.
durham, n.c. — On consecutive Saturdays, Virginia has held nine-point second-half leads against the ACC’s two most storied programs. And at the end of each contest, the Cavaliers were left to digest the shortcomings that led to defeat.
So after Virginia’s 76-60 loss Saturday at Duke, freshman guard K.T. Harrell talked about why a young squad playing without its best player performs at an optimal level for so long, only to unravel for the game’s most crucial stretch.
“I think we’ve got to have a better mind-set,” said Harrell, who shot 1 of 6 from the field and finished with two points. “I think we get a little too lax after the first half when we have the lead. We’ve got to understand that the game isn’t over. We’ve got to go out there and put out even more energy than we do in the first half.”
Everything about the circumstances in which the Cavaliers (10-7, 1-2) entered Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday was unenviable. Virginia had to introduce its large freshman class to Duke’s storied home court and rowdy fans one game after the Blue Devils had suffered their first defeat of the season, a 66-61 loss to Florida State on Thursday.
But the notion that the topranked Blue Devils (16-1, 3-1) would unleash their pent-up frustration on visiting Virginia did not materialize in the first half. Duke shot 34.5 percent from the field and made 1 of 12 shots from three-point range before intermission.
Virginia led by six at the break. A week earlier, the Cavaliers had led North Carolina by seven at halftime.
When junior center Assane Sene — who had been providing Virginia’s depleted front court with a solid defensive presence — committed his fourth foul with 17 minutes 28 seconds remaining in the game, Coach Tony Bennett removed him from the lineup.
Still, Virginia led by nine with more than 16 minutes to play.
At some point in the following few minutes, though, things started to go wrong.
Duke went on a 16-2 run that gave the Blue Devils a five-point lead.
“I think we really just lost our sense of urgency on the defensive end,” senior forward Will Sherrill said. “And against a team like Duke that’s got a lot of great offensive players, we’re going to get killed.”
Indeed, Duke guard Nolan Smith contributed eight points during that surge and finished with a game-high 29 points. And the lapses Virginia displayed on defense affected its play at the other end of the court.
A turnover by freshman guard Joe Harris led to a fast-break dunk by Smith with just more than 12 minutes remaining, and for the first time, Cameron Indoor Stadium erupted into pulsating pandemonium.
“Especially us being a young team, we haven’t experienced a lot of games like that before, and we’ve got to learn how to keep our composure,” Harrell said. “ Things like that are going to happen. People are going to get dunks, and the crowd is going to go crazy. We’ve just got to learn how to keep our heads and keep playing.”
A trio of three-pointers by Duke guard Andre Dawkins pushed Duke’s lead to 10 with just fewer than seven minutes remaining. From that point, the descent of a Cavaliers squad that hasn’t won here since 1995 was rapid.
“We’ve never won in here,” Sherrill said. “So I think when they started knocking down shots, I don’t think we got defeated, but we started to get a little more hesitant on offense, kind of like we were waiting for them to dictate the tone for us.”
Harris and senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan — 15 points each— combined to score half of Virginia’s points, but with Duke’s commanding rebounding edge (42-31), the Cavaliers couldn’t manufacture enough opportunities down the stretch to keep pace.
“We’ve got to find away to last and maintain it,” Bennett said. “I told them afterward: ‘ You were there for most of the game against [North] Carolina and the same thing here. That’s where you can’t beat yourself.’ And that’s where I thought we labored [Saturday]. We’ll keep learning from it.”