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Five takeaways from UVA basketball’s clutch win over the Duke Blue Devils

Our thoughts from a huge win for the Wahoos.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In an overtime thriller, the Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team pulled out a huge momentum win against the Duke Blue Devils by a final score of 69-62. With the win, UVA advances to 19-4 (11-3 in the ACC) on the season. As such, we have five takeaways from the victory.

UVA front-court limits Duke’s bigs despite early foul trouble

Coming into this game, probably the biggest question mark for how UVA would fare against the Blue Devils was regarding how well the Wahoo front-court would be able to defend Duke’s group of Kyle Filipowski, Derick Lively, and (to a lesser extent) Ryan Young. Well, in 69 total minutes, those three only combined to score eight points as none of them made a single field goal.

UVA switched up the matchups down low throughout the game. Ryan Dunn was, per usual, tremendous defensively against Filipowski especially in the second half as he forced a number of shot clock violations in isolation against his fellow freshman. Jayden Gardner was similarly effective early in the game, while Ben Vander Plas was really solid when guarding ball screens despite being under significant duress. Despite playing just eight and 11 minutes, Kadin Shedrick and Francisco Caffaro did also provide some nice physicality before Duke spread Virginia out too much for them to stay in the game.

It was a real battle in the paint for the full 45 minutes. The fact that Gardner, Vander Plas, Caffaro, and Shedrick (who had three) all had two fouls in the first half and Virginia still managed to so severely limit Duke’s strengths in the paint speaks to both the versatility and experience of Virginia’s big men. Those guys plus Dunn will determine UVA’s ceiling this season, so seeing them perform like this is significant.

Clutch guard play proves pivotal

As has been one of the most prominent themes of the season for UVA basketball, the Wahoo backcourt was absolutely tremendous in this game, especially down the stretch of the second half. Kihei Clark got to the paint with ease and displayed his impressive career-long development as a finisher at the rim, going 6-7 from two. The fifth year vet scored 16 points while finishing 7-10 from the floor and also adding five assists. His fellow point guard Beekman might have not had the best day finishing the ball (2-11, four points), but the junior still found ways to impact the game with seven assists, six rebounds, three steals, and one block.

All of Armaan Franklin’s three deep balls were huge, most notably including the massive triple with 40 seconds left in overtime to push the Virginia lead up to 66-62 and essentially ice things. His 23 points led the way for the Cavaliers as he hit three of UVA’s four long balls and also shot 6-8 from two-point range. Franklin has become the scoring and shooting guard that the ‘Hoos desperately needed to complement Beekman and Clark in the backcourt.

It’s perhaps the biggest cliche in college basketball, but the platitude that guard play wins games is incredibly true and it continues to be so, so evident for this UVA team.

Wahoos make it closer than it needed to be

If UVA had shot season averages from the free throw line and from beyond the arc, this game would have gone far differently. Alas, the ‘Hoos shot 9-22 (40.9%) from the charity stripe and 4-14 (28.6%) from deep. Ben Vander Plas was 5-11 from the line while Franklin (2-5) and Clark (1-3) were also both under 50%. Simply put, that should not be good enough to get the job done against a team as talented as Duke.

From the perimeter, the ‘Hoos just couldn’t find a rhythm beyond Franklin’s few makes. From one perspective, that’s concerning considering how UVA hasn’t been able to rely much on its outside shooting in recent weeks. On the other hand, though, the Cavaliers also scored a pretty crazy 42 points in the paint. Virginia still found a way to get the job done, particularly on the defensive side of the ball late in the game, and that’s what matters.

Disruptive Virginia defense gets the job done

Speaking of the defense, while the front-court absolutely battled down low, the Pack-Line defense also benefited from plenty of disruptiveness, notching 10 steals and forcing 22 turnovers from the Dukies. BVP continues to display what good hands he has with a whopping four steals while Beekman added three and Gardner, Franklin and McKneely all contributed one as well.

UVA’s 20 points off turnovers may not have been quite as many as one would expect considering that Duke gave the ball up 22 times, but it was still a major contributing factor in the win. Vander Plas’ alertness, Beekman’s gifts when playing off-ball (especially when playing a center-field type role when Virginia’s trapping), Clark and Beekman’s pesty on-ball defense, and the rest of the team’s typical alert play on defense proved vital in exploiting a young Duke team that made too many mistakes. The Wahoo defense has been more disruptive than in years’ past all season long, so it’s no surprise that it was so critical today.

Everything is in front of UVA in the ACC

With Clemson’s embarrassing 20-point loss to North Carolina, Virginia is now tied with just Pitt for first place in the ACC, at 11-3. As the Panthers have the tie-breaking head-to-head victory, they would get the one seed in the ACC Tournament while the teams would split the ACC Regular Season Title if the season ended today.

Both Pitt and UVA have altogether favorable remaining schedules. Virginia now has three straight games against teams outside the KenPom top-180 before playing at North Carolina, hosting Clemson, and then playing a horrible Louisville for the second time in six games to close out the regular season. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh plays a middling Boston College team at home, takes on a tough but inconsistent opponent in VT on the road, hosts another meh squad in Georgia Tech, then welcomes Syracuse before closing things out on the road versus Notre Dame and then Miami.

Arguably, Pitt probably has more lose-able games in that stretch. It’s surely going to be close but, by handling Duke and going 2-1 in this last tough three-game stretch, the Cavaliers have put themselves in a really solid position to clinch the one seed for Greensboro and a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament