Virginia can’t handle Duke in the ACC Tournament title game


GREENSBORO, NC – With less than eight minutes remaining in Saturday night’s ACC Tournament championship game, Virginia coach Tony Bennett hung his head and reluctantly called a timeout after Kyle Filipowski’s steal and dunk cut the Blue Devils’ lead back to double digits.

The sequence was just one moment in an uncharacteristically sloppy performance by the rest of the Cavaliers. That poor ball security, combined with erratic shooting that included eight missed layups, doomed Virginia to a 59-49 loss at the Greensboro Coliseum.

The 13th-ranked Cavaliers’ hopes were ignited after shooting 16-for-48 (33.3 percent), including 4-for-17 on 3-pointers (23.5 percent), in a game they had never led. They also committed a dozen turnovers, Virginia’s first game in double figures in the last 12.

“I think they’re a good defensive team,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said of the fourth-seeded Blue Devils. “They really came together like that. Their length and their athleticism was real and I think it sped us up at times and we were a little rushed at times.”

Junior guard Reece Beekman led Virginia with 12 points, but committed a game-high four turnovers. Freshman guard Isaac McKneely scored 10 points and was the only Cavaliers player to reach double figures in Virginia’s second-lowest point total of the season.

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Jeremy Roach (Paul VI) finished with a game-high 23 points on 7-for-12 shooting from the field, and Filipowski, a freshman standout, added 20 points and 10 rebounds to push the 21st-ranked Blue Devils (26-8) to their 22 .ACC Tournament Championship, most in conference history. Duke has won nine straight since falling in overtime on Feb. 11 in Charlottesville.

Virginia got within 49-43 with 3:05 left on McKneely’s 3-pointer. But the Blue Devils answered with a three-point play by Roach before Kihei Clark’s steal resulted in a quick layup for Beekman with 1:46 left.

Clark’s layup brought the Cavaliers within 52-47, and Beekman’s layup after Filipowski made 1 of 2 foul shots cut Duke’s lead to 53-49 with 46 seconds to play. The Blue Devils sealed the outcome by sinking six consecutive free throws in the final 40 seconds.

A 10-2 spurt by Duke had the Cavaliers trailing by their biggest margin at that point, 36-22, with 14:34 left in the second half. Roach stopped the streak with a three-pointer. But Virginia responded with a 3-pointer by Kadin Shedrick, who made a layup and drew a third foul on Filipowski. Gardner followed with a dunk off a pass from Armaan Franklin to cut the deficit to 36-27, forcing first-year Duke coach Jon Scheyer to call a timeout.

Loose possession in the first half led to the Cavaliers trailing 24-17 at halftime. Virginia committed seven turnovers in the first half after totaling six in each of the previous two games.

“Obviously we wanted to win, but we’re playing for something bigger,” McKneely said. “So we will take the next few days to rest and then get right back to work. … The shots weren’t falling like the last two games, but I know once we get into the (NCAA Tournament) we’ll be ready.”

Here’s what else you need to know about Virginia’s loss:

Duke’s considerable length in the frontcourt confused the Cavaliers for much of the game, leading to Virginia being able to score just 20 points in the racquetball. That lack of production was in stark contrast to the teams’ first meeting, when the Cavaliers scored 42 in a 69-62 overtime victory at John Paul Jones Arena. Virginia scored 40 points in the paint during Friday’s quarterfinal, 76-56 victory over third-seeded Clemson.

The combination of Filipowski and center Dereck Lively II, both 7-footers, kept Virginia from finishing at the rim except sporadically. More often than not, the Cavaliers had to settle for contested jumpers.

“Obviously we’re a little different without (injured starter Ben Vander Plas), so we have to adjust to that, but I thought they went with Jayden (Gardner),” Bennett said. “And when Reece or Kihei or Armaan went into the lane, they were there.”

Clark’s shooting slump continued against the Blue Devils, who limited Virginia’s third-leading scorer to 1-for-9 from the field. Clark finished with six points and three turnovers and is 14-for-55 over his last seven games.

Clark was seeking the first ACC Tournament championship in a highly-rewarded career that includes the 2019 NCAA title and three regular-season conference crowns.

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Virginia was scheduled to travel back to Charlottesville shortly after the ACC title game and will watch NCAA Tournament selection together Sunday at John Paul Jones Arena, athletic department officials said.

The Cavaliers are slated for the No. 4 seed and could return to Greensboro for the Round of 16. Other screenings have Virginia in Albany, NY, or Orlando for the opening weekend.

“The effort was there, this was a good experience and let’s take advantage of it,” Bennett said. “Absolutely learn from it and get ready to play” in the NCAA Tournament.

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