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One-on-one: Duke comes out on top in heavyweight matchup

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Duke's Zion Williamson passes the ball while Virginia's Jack Salt and De'Andre Hunter, left, defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

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By SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Saturday, January 19, 2019

DURHAM — Once the adrenaline had fizzled from Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday, after No. 1 Duke had defeated No. 4 Virginia, 72-70, Zion Williamson only wanted to know one thing.

What would R.J. Barrett, whose two back-to-back buckets late in the game gave the Blue Devils some breathing room after six straight minutes of exchanged one-point leads, rate his first-half dunk?

“That was like a five,” Barrett chided over the length of two media scrums. “You didn’t even do anything.”

In fact, on that play, Williamson dribbled the length of the court, shielded two defenders and finished off a right-handed dunk, all despite a foul mid-windup. The play drew the usual in-person disbelief and social media buzz that has become the norm for Williamson.

Alas, Barrett chose against hyperbole regarding his roommate and close friend. For him, though, the game he had just won, playing all 40 minutes and scoring 30 points, got its just description.

“Those are definitely the type of games you want to be in,” he said. “As a kid I used to watch those, so I’m thankful to be a part of one.”

Indeed, nothing — from the atmosphere, to the No. 1 ranking for Duke in the AP poll, to the No. 1 ranking for the Cavaliers in the USA Today coaches poll, to the UMBC chants, to the intensity with which Mike Krzyzewski reacted to each play — felt like a regular season game on Saturday. It was old against new, overt talent against organized discipline, and high-pace for Duke against the second slowest team possession-wise in the country.

It was just the fourth time in NCAA history that two No. 1-ranked teams in those respective polls had met in a regular season game. Virginia entered the night 16-0, having held all but one team on the season to fewer than 70 points scored.

On this particular night, in the end, Duke’s plucky young ensemble of talent beat out the suffocating defense of the Cavaliers.

“How amazing our fans were, how locked in our team was, I’d say this was definitely a top-two (home game) for me,” said Javin DeLaurier, a junior who was on the team last year when Virginia came to Durham and left with a win.

Barrett’s 30 points were followed by Williamson’s 27; those two combined for 57 of the 72 points. Cam Reddish had nine, Jack White had four, and Marques Bolden had two clutch free throws in the final minute, and that was the entirety of the scoring for the Blue Devils.

The game hit a six-minute peak midway through the second half, when the lead was exchanged 12 times. Barrett’s 16 points after halftime, eight of which came in the game’s final five minutes, helped create the slightest bit of separation from the Cavaliers.

With Duke up, 61-60, with under two minutes left, Barrett’s two baskets at the rim — he was fouled on the second one — ended the staring contest; Virginia missed a few clutch shots they made in last year’s matchup, and Duke closed the game, righting an upset loss to Syracuse on Monday, a game in which they lost point guard Tre Jones to injury for the foreseeable future.

“They’re mentally tough,” said Krzyzewski of Reddish, Williamson and Barrett. “We didn’t make them mentality tough, they came here mentality tough. Especially those two, Zion and RJ. They’ve played at a high level of scrutiny.”

As for the game?

“Obviously, we’re really tired. And happy, and ecstatic. It was one of those games,” he said, pausing. “That was good.”

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