R.J. Barrett hit his first five threes of the night and Cam Reddish hit five of his own as the No. 2 Blue Devils shot 13-for-21 from beyond the arc on Saturday night in Charlottesville en route to a 81-71 win over No. 3 Virginia.
Barrett led the way for the Blue Devils with 26 points, seven boards and three assists while Cam Reddish added 17 points of his own. Zion Williamson struggled offensively, turning the ball over five times, but he had the kind of line that we have come to expect from him: 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting five boards, five assists, three steals and three blocks.
Virginia was led by 16 points from Kyle Guy and 14 points from Ty Jerome, but there really was nothing that the Cavaliers could do. Every time it looked like they were ready to make a run, the Blue Devils hit a big three or made a big defensive play.
Here are three things we can take away from this result:
1. IF DUKE IS GOING TO MAKE 13 THREES, THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO
Duke is one of the nation’s best teams on the defensive end of the floor, and if they didn’t struggle as much as they do on the defensive glass, they might actually be the nation’s best.
Duke is absolutely lethal in transition.
Duke is always going to have the two best players on the floor in Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett that you simply will not be able to defend, and that doesn’t include Cam Reddish, who could end up being drafted as high as No. 2 in June.
When it comes to beating Duke, the one chance that you have is to pack in your defense, allow them to try and shoot over the top and rely on the fact that their roster is not one that is made up of great three-point shooters. The Blue Devils entered Saturday night as the nation’s 318th-best from beyond the arc, making 30.8% of their triples. This is how Syracuse beat them. This is how teams like Boston College and Georgia Tech were able to hang with the Blue Devils for more than a half. This is how Virginia, who entered Saturday leading the nation in three-point percentage defense, played them
And Duke went out and made their first five threes and 13 of their first 18 threes.
What can you do when they do that?
The answer is nothing.
If this Duke team is going to make 13 three-pointers, they are never going to lose.
And while I’d love to sit here and talk about what Virginia was doing offensively or how Tre Jones impacted the game, none of that really matters in this discussion.
2. VIRGINIA PLAYED WELL ENOUGH TO WIN
That is the other side of this.
Zion Williamson stuffed the stat sheet, but the Wahoos did about as good of a job of keeping him in check as you can. R.J. Barrett didn’t do much of anything on the offensive end of the floor after he made those five threes to open the game. Cam Reddish did score 17 points, but his damage was done as a spot-up shooter. Those are the shots that you have to live with as a coach.
Virginia, as a team, shot 46.7 percent from the floor. They were 10-for-24 from three. They forced 15 Duke turnovers and limited the Blue Devils to just eight offensive rebounds. They more or less kept Duke from getting out in transition and beating their defense down the floor. I think Tony Bennett will be able to go to sleep tonight knowing that there wasn’t much else he could have done. It was just one of those nights.
2a. BUT IT WASN’T JUST THREES FOR DUKE
If there is something that we can be critical of with Virginia, it’s that they were never able to make a play as the momentum was getting ready to change. What I mean by that is that every time they started chipping away at Duke’s lead, the Blue Devils had the answer.
One example: After a Jay Huff three and a Braxton Key layup trimmed the deficit to five points, Duke answered with a Tre Jones three from the corner before Jones picked Ty Jerome’s pocket on an offensive rebound and took the ball the other way before getting fouled on a layup attempt. Five minutes later, Virginia again cut the lead to five on a De’Andre Hunter three, but Duke answered with a Marques Bolden post bucket that was followed by Zion doing Zion things: blocking a seemingly wide-open Hunter three into the crowd and, on the ensuing possession, grabbing an offensive rebound and laying the ball in.
Those are small moments in the game, but when Virginia is scrapping and clawing with everything they have to erase a deficit, plays like that are just momentum sappers.
Credit to Duke to keeping the Hoos at bay.
3. MARQUES BOLDEN’S IMPROVEMENT DEFENSIVELY HAS BEEN IMPRESSIVE
The most under-discussed story line for this Duke season has been the fact that, over the course of the last month or so, Bolden has developed into a capable defensive presence. The adjustment that Duke has made has been to switch most exchanges and all ball-screens — essentially, do exactly what most of the best NBA teams do — and the reason that has worked is because Bolden can hold his own on the perimeter.
Now, I’m not saying that he has turned into Tre Jones, but he doesn’t have to be. As long as he is capable of making it difficult for an opposing guard to get around him while using his length to challenge on the shot, then he is doing his job.