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


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

It was just one moment in a particularly sloppy performance by the second-ranked Cavaliers. It was poor ball security, along with errant shooting that included eight missed field goals, that cost Virginia a 59-49 loss at the Greensboro Coliseum.

The 13th-ranked Cavaliers’ hopes were dashed on 16-for-48 shooting (33.3%), including 4-for-17 (23.5%) from three-point range, in a game they never quite managed. They also committed a dozen turnovers, making it Virginia’s first double-digit game in its last 12 games.

“I think they’re a good defensive team,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said of the fourth-ranked Blue Devils. “That’s how they really connected. Their length and athleticism was real, and I think it sped us up at times, and we were rushed at times.”

Junior guard Rhys Beckman led Virginia with 12 points, but committed a team-high four turnovers. Freshman guard Isaac McKneely scored 10 points and was the only other Cavaliers player in double figures for a season-low at Virginia.

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

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

Clark’s layup put the Cavaliers up 52-47, and after Filipowski made 1 of 2 foul shots, Beckman’s layup cut Duke’s lead to 53-49 with 46 seconds left. The Blue Devils tied the score with six straight free throws in the final 40 seconds.

A 10-2 Duke offense trailed the Cavaliers by their largest margin to that point, 36-22, with 14:34 left in the second half. Roach capped the run with a three-pointer. But Virginia countered with a three-point play by Kadin Shedrick, who made a layup and drew a third foul on Filipowski. Jaden Gardner hauled in a pass from Armand Franklin to cut the deficit to 36-27, prompting first-year Duke coach John Scheier to call a timeout.

A loose first-half possession 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 it, but we’re playing for something bigger,” McKneely said. “So we’ll take the next couple of days off and then we’ll be back at it. … The shots weren’t falling like they have in the last two games, but I know going into the game [NCAA tournament] we will be ready.”

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Duke’s considerable length in the frontcourt confused the Cavaliers for much of the game, leading to Virginia managing just 20 points in the paint. That lack of production was in stark contrast to the teams’ first meeting, when the Cavaliers led by 42 in a 69-62 overtime victory at John Paul Jones Arena. Virginia scored 40 points to beat third-ranked Clemson 76-56 in Friday’s quarterfinals.

The combination of Filipowski and center Derek Lively II, both 7-footers, rarely prevented Virginia from finishing. Often, the Cavaliers had to settle for contested jumpers.

“Obviously we’re a little bit different without him [injured starter Ben Vander Plas], so we’ll have to adjust to that, but I thought they picked Jayden,” Bennett said. “And when Rhys, Kihei or Armand were in 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 in his last seven games.

Clark was looking for the first ACC tournament championship in a career that includes the 2019 NCAA title and three regular-season conference crowns.

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Virginia will return to Charlottesville shortly after the ACC title game and watch an NCAA tournament qualifier showdown Sunday at John Paul Jones Arena, athletic department officials said.

The Cavaliers are seeded 4th and could return to Greensboro for the round of 64. Other speculation has Virginia spending the first weekend in Albany, New York or Orlando.

“The effort was there, it was a good experience and let’s use it,” Bennett said. “Absolutely learn and come ready to play” in the NCAA tournament.

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