GREENSBORO, N.C. — With less than eight minutes left in Saturday night’s ACC tournament championship game, Virginia Coach Tony Bennett hung his head and begrudgingly called a timeout after Kyle Filipowski’s steal and dunk boosted the Blue Devils’ lead back to double digits.
The sequence was just one moment in an uncharacteristically sloppy performance by the second-seeded Cavaliers. That poor ball security, combined with wayward shooting that included eight missed layups, doomed Virginia to a 59-49 loss at Greensboro Coliseum.
The 13th-ranked Cavaliers’ hopes fizzled amid 16 for 48 shooting (33.3 percent), including 4 for 17 on three-pointers (23.5 percent), in a game they never led. They also committed a dozen turnovers, making this Virginia’s first game in double digits in its past 12.
“I think they’re a good defensive team,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said of the fourth-seeded Blue Devils. “They’ve really come together that way. Their length and their athleticism were real, and I think at times it sped us up, and we were at times a bit rushed.”
Junior guard Reece Beekman 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 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 by going 7 for 12 from the field, and Filipowski, a standout freshman, added 20 points and 10 rebounds to push the 21st-ranked Blue Devils (26-8) to their 22nd ACC tournament championship, the most in conference history. Duke has won nine consecutive games since falling in overtime Feb. 11 in Charlottesville.
Virginia got within 49-43 with 3:05 remaining on a McKneely three-pointer. But the Blue Devils responded with a Roach three-point play before Kihei Clark’s steal resulted in a fast-break layup for Beekman with 1:46 to go.
Clark’s layup got 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 straight free throws in the final 40 seconds.
A 10-2 Duke flurry had the Cavaliers trailing 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. Jayden Gardner followed with a dunk off a pass from Armaan Franklin to trim the deficit to 36-27, compelling first-year Duke coach Jon Scheyer to call a timeout.
Loose ballhandling in the first half led to the Cavaliers trailing 24-17 at halftime. Virginia committed seven turnovers in the first half after amassing six total in each of the previous two games.
“Obviously we wanted to win that, but we’re playing for something bigger,” McKneely said. “So we’ll take the next couple days to rest up and then get right back at it. … Shot weren’t falling like they have in the a past two games, but I know once we get into the [NCAA tournament] we’ll be ready.”
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Duke’s considerable length in the frontcourt confounded 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 managed 42 in a 69-62 overtime victory at John Paul Jones Arena. Virginia had scored 40 points in the paint during Friday’s quarterfinals, a 76-56 win over third-seeded Clemson.
The combination of Filipowski and center Dereck Lively II, both 7-footers, prevented Virginia from finishing at the rim except sporadically. More often, the Cavaliers had to settle for contested jumpers.
“Obviously we’re a little different without [injured starter Ben Vander Plas], so we’ve got to adjust to that, but I thought they keyed on Jayden,” Bennett said. “And when Reece or Kihei or Armaan got in the lane, they were there.”
Clark’s shooting slump continued against the Blue Devils, who limited Virginia’s third-leading scorer to a 1-for-9 showing from the field. Clark finished with six points and three turnovers and is shooting 14 for 55 in the past seven games.
Clark was seeking the first ACC tournament championship of a highly decorated career that includes the 2019 NCAA title and three conference regular season crowns.
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Virginia was set to travel back to Charlottesville shortly after the ACC title game and will watch the NCAA tournament selection show together Sunday at John Paul Jones Arena, athletic department officials said.
The Cavaliers are projected for a No. 4 seed and could be headed back to Greensboro for the round of 64. Other projections have Virginia in Albany, N.Y., or Orlando for the first weekend.
“The effort was there, this was a good experience to be in, and let’s use it,” Bennett said. “Absolutely learn from it and get ready to play” in the NCAA tournament.