CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Jay Huff brought his flair for the dramatic to a completely new level, and brought down the program he grew up rooting for in his hometown.
Virginia’s 7-footer from Durham with a career marked by a knack for highlight-reel dunks and blocked shots, but not so much consistency, had his best game in three years Saturday, and capped it in dazzling fashion.
After Mamadi Diakite made a short, go-ahead jumper with 37 seconds left, Huff blocked Vernon Carey Jr.’s shot under the basket with 3.7 remaining and ripped the ball away, preserving Virginia’s 52-50 victory against No. 7 Duke.
It capped a 15-point, 10-block, nine rebound effort that Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said was the difference in the game.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little bit more amped up, I guess, for Duke games, in my past years and this year, obviously,” he said, adding that he often attended Blue Devils games growing up and has a photo of a young Huff with Coach K on his family’s refrigerator at home.
“It was fun. It was really exciting. Some of it was timing, I think, and some of it was being in the right place,” Huff said of his career-best blocks total.
The victory was Virginia’s sixth in a row, ended its three-game home losing streak against the Blue Devils and allowed the Cavaliers to leap-frog Duke into third place in the ACC standings with one week left in the regular season. No. 11 Louisville and No. 6 Florida State lead the way, both with four losses, and the Cavaliers play host to the Cardinals in the last home game next Saturday.
It’s a far cry from a spell of four losses in five games from Jan. 7-20 that had fans wondering if the reigning national champs would even get a chance to repeat. Since then, they have won nine of 10 to surge into title contention.
“Losing taught us a lot of things,” Diakite said. “It’s not necessarily bad. … A month ago we were supposed to be done. … That’s what people were saying, but we just put our head down and focused on what we could control.”
Diakite and Braxton Key each added 14 points for Virginia (21-7, 13-5 ACC).
Tre Jones tried an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer, but missed, sending Duke (23-6, 13-5) to its second loss in a row and third in four games. Because it was the only meeting of the teams this year, Virginia’s holds a tie-breaker edge.
“It was going to be a really good, tough win for one team and a tough loss for the other, and they got the good tough win,” Krzyzewski said.
“I do think the experience of playing a game like this helps us,” Krzyzewski added, noting the Blue Devils had a starting lineup that included four freshmen.
Carey had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Jones also scored 17.
The game was tied at 25 at halftime and at 39 and 45, the latter with 4:52 to play, and the teams swapped the lead four times the rest of the way. Diakite’s short shot gave Virginia the lead for good at 51-50, and Huff’s block on Carey finished a sterling defensive effort.
Duke was 18 for 59 (31%) and 4 for 17 on 3-pointers.
Duke: The Blue Devils came in averaging 83.2 points and having scored at least 63 in every game. They managed just 25 in the first half, but were tied despite Carey playing just nine minutes and No. 3 scorer Cassius Stanley, No. 4 scorer Matthew Hurt and No. 5 scorer Wendell Moore all being scoreless at the break.
Virginia: Turnovers were again a factor for the Cavaliers, who have been prone to more than coach Tony Bennett can accept several times this season. While they lead the nation in scoring defense (52.7), a deliberately paced offense and scoring questions make empty possessions especially difficult to overcome. The Cavaliers had 15 turnovers, but Duke scored just three points off them.
“Basketball is not about getting bowl-eligible.” — Krzyzewski
The Blue Devils are at home against NC State on Monday night.
The Cavaliers head to Miami for their last road game of the season on Wednesday night.