Jayson Tatum scored a career-high 28 points, added nine boards and buried a trio of dagger threes down the stretch as No. 12 Duke landed a 65-55 win at No. 14 Virginia on Wednesday night.
Tatum’s monster night came in a game where everyone else on Duke looked, frankly, like they were playing against Virginia’s defense. Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard combined for just 21 points on 5-for-20 shooting while Amile Jefferson had three first half fouls and picked up his fourth foul less than four minutes into the second half.
London Perrantes had 14 points to lead the Cavaliers, but he shot just 4-for-11 from the floor. Marial Shayok was just 3-for-11 from the field and, as a team, Virginia shot just 31.4 percent from the field and 5-for-19 from three.
The win keeps Duke within a game of first place North Carolina in the ACC while UVA drops two games off the pace as they’ve now lost four of their last six games. Duke has now won six straight games.
Here are four things to take away from this game:
1. This was the Jayson Tatum game: Last week, when then-No. 18 Duke landed an impressive home win over then-No. 8 North Carolina, we talked about how the 19 second half points that Tatum scored in that game was the breakout performance we were all waiting to see out of a guy that has the potential to be a top three pick in the draft.
We were wrong.
It was Wednesday night. Tatum had 28 points. He was 8-for-13 from the floor and 6-for-7 from three. He hit three huge threes, each of them tougher than the last, in the final six minutes that spurred on an 11-2 run that push a 43-42 lead to 54-44, and Virginia was never able to recover. And it wasn’t just the scoring. It was his defense and, more importantly, his ability on the defense glass; all nine of those rebounds were defensive rebounds.
If Duke is going to make this small-ball thing work, it’s going to be because they’re good enough defensively with Tatum at the four to beat the best teams in the country.
2. Duke’s defense was awesome: Before the final two minutes of this game, when Virginia started fouling and the Blue Devils played defense simply not to foul, Virginia had 44 points. They were shooting 31.7 percent from the floor. They had gotten essentially nothing offensively from … well, from anyone, and that happened despite Harry Giles III and Marques Bolden playing more minutes that we’re used to seeing out of them because of the foul trouble that Amile Jefferson got into.
Kennard and Allen put in defensive performances that are better than what we’re used to seeing from them. Matt Jones was as good as he always is on that end of the floor. And, of course, Tatum. Duke doesn’t have to be as good as Virginia on the defensive end. What they have to be is good enough that a roster with three elite offensive weapons can win games. It looks like that’s happening.
3. … how much of this was due to Virginia’s offense: Or lack thereof. They don’t have a Malcolm Brogdon or Anthony Gill this season. Perrantes is a terrific player, but he’s at his best when he’s a distributor, not when he’s a go-to scorer. Austin Nichols would’ve been that guy if he didn’t get the boot one game into the season. Last season, when things weren’t going well for them offensively, they could run Brogdon off of a series of screens and know they would get a good shot. Before that it was Joe Harris. But without that guy, and without a low-post scoring presence to take the pressure off of the guards, the brunt of league play is wearing on Virginia.
4. Harry Giles III played his best game of the season: The numbers may not show it – he had five points, three boards, two steals and as many turnovers – but this was the best that Giles has looked all season long. Whether it was passing out of a double-team or being in the right spot defensively or twice picking off a second half pass that had beaten him in the first half, Giles looked like he was gaining some of his confidence back. When you see that combined with post moves and leaping over defenders for offensive rebounds, it’s a promising sign that the pre-injury Harry Giles III is still in there somewhere.
He still had a couple of freshman mistakes – he threw an awful pass against one of UVA’s double-teams and them dropped a pass that would have been a wide-open dunk because he was rushing and flustered – but he’s getting better.