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Four takeaways from No. 1 Duke’s win over No. 4 Virginia

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R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson combined to score 57 points as No. 1 Duke survived an off-night from Cam Reddish to take down No. 4 Virginia, the last remaining unbeaten in college basketball, 72-70.

De’Andre Hunter led Virginia with 18 points while Ty Jerome finished with 14 points, four assists and four boards, the majority of his damage being done in the second half. Duke led 37-32 heading into halftime, cut the lead to 40-39 by the first TV timeout. From that point until the Blue Devils used a 6-0 run to push their lead out to 67-60, the game was a thrilling, one possession battle between two of the best teams in the country.

For me, that was the most important factor on display.

These could very well be the two best teams in college basketball. On a different day — one where Kyle Guy or Braxton Key makes one or two of the handful of wide open threes they had in the second half — Virginia wins this game. At the same time, we can say that if Tre Jones is healthy for the return leg, Duke could go into John Paul Jones Arena and get a win and no one would be surprised.

Speaking of Jones, much was made of the importance of his absence in the buildup to this game, but Duke still managed to find a way to win.

Here are four things to takeaway from the result:

1. ZION WILLIAMSON IS SPECIAL

Breaking news!

The likely No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and the probably National Player of the Year is a great basketball player.

Shocking, right?

But in all seriousness, he was absolutely unstoppable on Saturday night in Cameron. There is no team in the country that is better than Virginia when it comes to stopping dribble penetration — that is the entire point of the Pack-Line — and Zion was able to get to the rim more or less at will. Virginia tried everything to slow him down, from using future top ten pick De’Andre Hunter, to Mamadi Diakite, to Braxton Key. By the end of the second half, Tony Bennett put Jack Salt on Zion, hoping that it would be more effective using the burly, 7-foot New Zealander to keep Zion from bullying his way to the basket while helping as much as possible.

(I know this is probably a different conversation for a different space, but in all seriousness, Virginia’s entire premise defensively is to force drivers to play with as little space as possible, and Zion got wherever he wanted. In the NBA — with the longer three-point line, shooters all over the floor and more space than anyone knows what to do with — how do you keep him out of the lane?)

With the loss to Syracuse on Monday night, Duke is going to fall out of the top spot in the AP Poll. That’s justified.

But it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the idea that a team with Zion Williamson as the second-option offensively is not the best team in college basketball.

2. THE CHESS MATCH BETWEEN THESE TWO COACHES WAS AMAZING, BUT COACH K WON THIS ROUND

It was fascinating to watch these two coaching geniuses trade haymakers for 40 minutes on Saturday night.

Coach K landed the first blow. Virginia runs the blocker-mover offense, which is more-or-less a continuity offense where three guards (movers) are constantly running off of screens from the two bigs (blockers), and he was able to completely take UVA out of their offense by switching all exchanges, 1-through-5. Tony Bennett said at halftime that no one had done that against them before. Switching off-ball screening actions minimizes their effectiveness, especially when the bigs aren’t good enough to overpower the guards that are switched onto them:

This through Virginia for a loop early on, but they adjusted. This is when Bennett gets on the scorecard for the first time, because he totally scrapped his offense and started doing exactly what Duke does: He ran screen after screen after screen until he got the matchup he wanted — usually, Marques Bolden on Ty Jerome or De’Andre Hunter. Then he would lift the defense, send the big out to set a ball-screen and let the dribbler attack the space in the paint since Duke wasn’t leaving shooters:

Duke’s response?

They switched to a 2-3 zone for a number of possessions late in the second half, and it got Duke the win, but I do think that it’s important to note than Virginia entered this game as the nation’s seventh-best three-point shooting team and they missed three or four really good looks from three against that Duke zone. If those threes — the shots that Virginia wanted to get, mind you — go down, maybe I’m writing something different here.

They didn’t.

And Duke was able to land themselves the two-point win.

(One point that I think is important to add here: One of the things that people love to cite when they say that Tony Bennett will never be able to coach in the NBA is the offense that he runs. Well, in the second half, Virginia essentially ran the same offense that was run for the entirety of the 2018 Western Conference Finals. He simply moved players into screens to force switches into advantageous matchups, then he let his stars go and make a play. Oh, and should I mention that the Portland Trailblazers run the blocker-mover offense? Because they do.)

Anyway, the more important point about the Wahoos is that …

3. … DE’ANDRE HUNTER AND TY JEROME ARE DIFFERENCE-MAKERS

After watching that game and rewatching much of the second half, I am more sold on the idea that this Virginia team is the team that can finally get to the Final Four.

No one is going to defend Virginia this season as well as Duke did on Saturday night. The Blue Devils schemed UVA out of everything they wanted to do offensively, and Virginia still gave Duke a fight in Cameron.

The point here isn’t to celebrate a moral victory — remember, Virginia won in Cameron last year and lost in the first round to UMBC. The point is that Hunter and Jerome are as good as any 1-2 punch in college hoops this side of Duke. They can create outside of the confines of Virginia’s system. They can take games over, as Hunter did for a stretch in the first half and as Jerome did for much of the second half. They are NBA players that are hidden by the slowest pace in the sport.

The point is that the concern people have about Virginia winning in March is that they are susceptible to losing to teams that can take them out of what they want to do. Duke did that, and Virginia came a couple of missed threes away from picking them off in Cameron.

Maybe Virginia is more matchup-proof than we realized.

4. DUKE DEFINITELY MISSED TRE JONES

It’s easy to hide flaws in a roster when the top two picks in the draft are able to put up  combined 57 points on 21-for-35 shooting against one of the best defenses in college basketball, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t chinks in the armor.

Part of the reason that Duke had to switch as much as they did on Saturday night, and part of the reason they were eventually forced to go to zone, is that Tre Jones’ defense wasn’t on the floor. Part of the reason that Duke had to play Marques Bolden for 33 minutes despite the fact that he was the guy that Virginia targeted every time they switched was because Tre Jones was on the bench. Part of the reason that Cam Reddish struggled to get things going was because there was no true point guard on the floor to initiate offense.

Duke is better with Tre Jones.

I don’t even think there is a question.

But when you have two dudes that are as good as Zion and RJ are, there are going to be a lot of games where it just doesn’t matter.

Kabengele leads No. 16 Florida State to 77-64 win at Clemson

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CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Trent Forrest said Florida State entered the season hoping to make history. The 16th-ranked Seminoles certainly did that at Clemson.

Mfiondu Kabengele had 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Florida State set a program record with its eighth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference victory in a 77-64 win over the Tigers on Tuesday night.

The Seminoles (21-5, 9-4 ACC) had not won this many consecutive league games since joining the conference before the 1991-92 season. They won 11 straight Metro Conference games in 1977-78.

“It shows how locked in we’ve been,” said Forrest, a junior guard. “Our seniors came into the year wanting to make history and I feel like we’re helping them with that.”

Florida State used its size, strength and speed to keep the run going against the Tigers, holding on after seeing an 18-point edge cut to 59-52 with eight minutes left. That’s as close as Clemson (15-11, 5-8) would get in dropping its third in a row and getting swept by Florida State for the second time in three seasons.

Kabengele led the way on both sides of the ball. He hit 9 of 13 from the field, blocked two shots, and his rebounds were a season high. Then again, Clemson had trouble stopping much of anything Florida State did around the basket. The Seminoles’ starting center in 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje went 4-of-6 shooting for 10 points with seven rebounds and a pair of blocks.

“Our coaches emphasize us bigs being a major factor in games,” said Kabengele, the 6-10 sophomore. “To have me and Christ to both have good parts to the game helps us get good wins.”

That wasn’t the case early on in ACC play as Florida State started 1-4 with losses at Pitt and Boston College. It got things in gear against Clemson with a 77-68 win on Jan. 22 and has not lost since.

“The streak continues,” Kabengele said with a smile.

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton is grateful for his team’s successful run. He’s even happier that his players are gelling so well and improving their play every time out. The streak? It won’t help a bit, he said, in his team’s next contest at No. 8 North Carolina on Saturday.

“In reality, it doesn’t mean anything other than people are probably going to play us a little bit harder,” he said.

The Seminoles took control after Clemson closed to 23-21 on Marcquise Reed’s 3-pointer with 6:18 left in the half. Florida then went on a 15-2 surge the rest of the half with Kabengele hitting three buckets and Walker landing a 3-pointer.

When Trent Forrest got his off-balance push shot on a drive to the basket to go right before the buzzer sounded, Florida State went to the locker room ahead 38-23. The lead grew as large as 18.

Forrest finished with 14 points.

Reed had 20 points to lead Clemson, which was coming off two gut-wrenching, one point defeats at Miami (65-64) and at Louisville (56-55) before this. Tigers coach Brad Brownell said his team was deflated when it returned to campus Sunday after the Louisville loss, but thought they had rebounded enough that this game should have been more competitive.

“I thought our energy was good,” Brownell said. “They were just better than us.”

BIG PICTURE

Florida State: The Seminoles’ offense was relentless with guard Trent Forrest and Terance Mann pushing the ball at the basket where their bigger teammates like Kabengele and Koumadje took control. It’s a formula that works well in the postseason where Florida State reached the NCAA’s round of eight last year.

Clemson: The Tigers came into the season ranked and with high expectations after their NCAA Tournament run to the Sweet 16 a year ago. But the team of four senior starters appeared way out of synch in this one. Clemson has had two three-game losing streaks in ACC play and may have to do something remarkable for make another appearance in the Big Dance.

TURNAROUND

Hamilton said his team’s early ACC troubles were in part blending in newcomers along with injuries to mainstays like Phil Cofer, who missed the first win over Clemson last month. Hamilton was confident his team would recover and anyway, “there was a high probability we wouldn’t go undefeated in ACC play,” he said.

OLD SCHOOL

With all the focus on fabulous freshmen, Florida State and Clemson had a throwback game with a combined seven players in the two starting lineups as seniors. The Seminoles’ senior starter were Cofer, Mann and Koumadje. Clemson had four starters in Elijah Thomas, David Skara, Reed and Shelton Mitchell.

UP NEXT

Florida State ends a three-game road swing at North Carolina on Saturday.

Clemson plays Boston College at home Saturday.

___

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Kentucky’s Reid Travis exits Missouri win with sprained knee

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Kentucky earned an SEC road win over Missouri on Tuesday night, but in the process, the Wildcats could be without senior forward Reid Travis for the next several games.

Travis exited Tuesday’s game in the second half with what’s being called a sprained right knee after teammate Keldon Johnson fell into Travis’ leg with a little more than 10 minutes left in the game. The fall sent Travis to the locker room, as he didn’t return to the contest as Kentucky held a comfortable second-half advantage.

Postgame, Kentucky head coach John Calipari told Jerry Tipton that there was no definite prognosis on Travis’ injury as Calipari “threw out the possibility of [Travis] being sidelined two weeks.”

Without Travis in the lineup, Calipari has the luxury of turning to two McDonald’s All-American bigs off the bench in freshman E.J. Montgomery and sophomore Nick Richards. Montgomery has earned consistent minutes of late while Richards was a promising 3-for-3 for seven points in Tuesday’s win.

Travis entered Tuesday averaging 11.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game for the Wildcats as he’s been one of the team’s leaders this season. While Kentucky can likely withstand the loss of Travis for a few weeks, they will need him at full strength if they want to make a potential Final Four run.

No. 4 Kentucky beats Missouri 66-58

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COLUMBIA, Mo. — PJ Washington and Tyler Herro scored 18 points each as fourth-ranked Kentucky slogged past Missouri 66-58 on Tuesday night.

Ashton Hagans added 12 points for the Wildcats (22-4, 11-2 Southeastern Conference), who looked a little sluggish three days after beating then top-ranked Tennessee. But Kentucky was good enough defensively to hold the Tigers to 37 percent shooting from the field.

Ronnie Suggs scored 13 and Jordan Geist finished with 11 for Missouri (12-13, 3-10 SEC).

After Missouri took an 11-10 advantage with 12:35 left in the first half, Herro scored seven points in a 42-second span to give Kentucky the lead for good. The Tigers got into foul trouble as Kevin Puryear and Jeremiah Tilmon each picked up two quick ones and Mitchell Smith was knocked out of the game after being hit in the head with an inadvertent elbow. Washington racked up 15 first-half points as the Wildcats opened a 41-23 halftime lead.

Kentucky had some attrition up front, also, as starting forward Reid Travis left the game in the second half with a sprained right knee. Missouri did most of its offensive damage late, narrowing its deficit to six points on Torrence Watson’s 3-pointer with 14 seconds left.

BIG PICTURE

Missouri: Derrick Chievous, who starred for the Tigers from 1985-88, had his No. 3 jersey retired at halftime. Chievous, who was known for always wearing a Band-Aid during games for no medical reason, is Missouri’s career leading scorer with 2,580 points. He is the seventh Missouri player to have his jersey retired, joining Bill Stauffer, Norm Stewart, Willie Smith, Steve Stipanovich, Jon Sundvold and Doug Smith.

Kentucky: With his 297th victory in 10 years at Kentucky, John Calipari tied Joe B. Hall for second place in wins at the school. Calipari has some work to do to catch the man at the top of the list — Adolph Rupp won 876 games in 42 years leading the Wildcats.

UP NEXT

Missouri: The Tigers play Saturday at Florida.

Kentucky: The Wildcats play host to Auburn on Saturday.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Baylor upends Iowa State; Purdue, Maryland score Big Ten road wins

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Tuesday night in college hoops had some games to monitor for both the bubble, and the Big Ten, as road teams winning tight games was a bit of a theme. One team looks to have solidified their at-large bid while two more teams made major moves in the Big Ten standings. 

Baylor potentially punches NCAA ticket with road win at Iowa State

The bubble didn’t have many important wins on Tuesday. Most of the bubble lost, or, at best, earned wins over underwhelming competition. That wasn’t the case for Baylor though as the Bears might have earned their way into the Field of 68 with a notable 73-69 road win at No. 19 Iowa State.

Struggling a bit over the last few games, Baylor earned the very important sweep over the Cyclones as they stayed in the tight Big 12 race by continuing to earn unlikely wins. Depleted by injury, the Bears had strong outings from Jared Butler (17 points) and Makai Mason (14 points). But it was the play of former Division III transfer Freddie Gillespie that made the difference for Baylor. Playing 31 minutes, Gillespie was 7-for-8 from the floor as he finished with 14 points, 10 rebound and two blocks — including a key swat in the game’s final minutes.

While Baylor has some work to do if they want to stay in the crowded Big 12 race, they can rest a little bit easier tonight knowing that they are likely safely in the NCAA tournament.

No. 15 Purdue outlasts rival Indiana to tie for Big Ten lead

One of college basketball’s most heated rivalries took center stage on Tuesday night as the Boilermakers needed a late tip-in from big man Matt Haarms to beat Indiana with a 48-46 road win. Tying for the Big Ten lead with Michigan and Michigan State, this is one of Purdue’s most impressive wins of the season, as they stepped up and won on the road despite an awful night from star guard Carsen Edwards.

Shooting only 4-for-24 from the floor, Edwards was bailed out by a stout Purdue defense as well as 11-second half points from senior shooter Ryan Cline. It also didn’t hurt that Indiana freshman Romeo Langford (14 points, nine rebounds) missed the go-ahead free throw with less than 30 seconds left. Not many believed the Boilermakers could win games with Edwards missing 20 shots. But it shows how strong Purdue is defensively and it’s a testament to why they are surprisingly tied for the Big Ten lead at this point in the season.

No. 24 Maryland escapes with Big Ten road win at No. 21 Iowa

The night’s only matchup between top-25 teams was another exciting finish in the Big Ten as the Terrapins got the best of Iowa thanks to a late tip-in from big man Bruno Fernando (11 points). After a back-and-forth game that saw the Hawkeyes take the lead thanks to a late run, Maryland charged back and made critical plays on both ends to get the important road win. Anthony Cowan Jr. paced the Terps with 17 points while Eric Ayala also chipped in 11 points.

This win for Maryland is crucial because they own any potential tiebreaker over Iowa in the Big Ten standings. That could definitely come into play as the Terps, Wisconsin and the Hawkeyes are all in the mix for the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament — the final double-bye.

Fernando’s putback lifts No. 24 Maryland over No. 21 Iowa

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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon knew the ball would be in Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon’s hands.

The No. 24 Terrapins were ready in the final 7.8 seconds, and they turned the No. 21 Hawkeyes away from a third-straight buzzer beater with a 66-65 victory on Tuesday night.

“The kid’s made some incredible shots,” Turgeon said. “I just hoped the luck ran out — well, I wouldn’t say it’s luck, he’s a big-time shooter. I think Anthony (Cowan) got a finger on it on the way up.

“It bounced our way tonight.”

Bruno Fernando scored 11 points for Maryland (20-7, 11-5 Big Ten), the last two of which came on a putback with 7.8 seconds to go that gave the Terrapins their winning margin.

Maryland gave up an 11-point lead over the final four minutes, but held on against an Iowa team that had won its last two games via buzzer-beater and had two looks at the basket in the final seven seconds. The Terrapins got 17 points from Anthony Cowan, who shot 5 of 10 from 3-point range and had eight rebounds. Eric Ayala added 11 points and Fernando had 11 rebounds.

Despite Iowa’s furious comeback effort, which included Bohannon being fouled on a 3-pointer, Turgeon was happy with how his team responded to Iowa’s getting back in the game.

“They shoot five free throws, we’ve had the ball for 20 seconds and there was still 3:57 to go and it’s a two-point game,” Turgeon said. “It was crazy how fast we lost it. But my guys were tough tonight.

“Iowa missed about seven wide-open 3s for us. And we started to make shots. We got ourselves going and got our defense going.”

Iowa (20-6, 9-6) saw its four game-win streak end. The Hawkeyes were led by Bohannon, who had 14 points, and Isaiah Moss, who added 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery couldn’t pinpoint a major difference in a reason for this outcome being different than the previous pair, other than the final possession was emblematic of the entire game.

“It was kind of the whole game,” McCaffery said. “Shots by good shooters weren’t going in. There was a lot (of options at the end). I think (Bohannon) felt like he was free enough to pull. He wants to be the guy shooting it in that situation.”

BIG PICTURE

Iowa: The Hawkeyes couldn’t make another miracle, and finally were bit by inconsistent play they were able to overcome previously. Iowa held Maryland without a field goal for nearly six minutes to open the game, but allowed the Terrapins to shoot nearly 52 percent in the second half.

Maryland: The Terrapins had 10 offensive rebounds, including the big one by Fernando. Maryland also forced 17 Iowa turnovers and scored 20 points off those turnovers.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Iowa: The Hawkeyes dipped slightly last week after narrow wins, but a loss to a ranked team shouldn’t be the biggest indictment.

Maryland: A road win against a ranked team should boost the Terrapins next Sunday, provided Turgeon’s team holds serve at home against Ohio State.

UP NEXT

Iowa welcomes Indiana to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday.

Maryland returns home to play Ohio State on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25