DURHAM, N.C. — Sammy Zeglinski is experienced enough to realize that there is solace to be taken from No. 16 Virginia’s 61-58 loss Thursday night at Duke. Unlike their visit here a year ago, when a second-half lead devolved into a blowout loss, the Cavaliers had a chance to tie the game on their final possession.
A team that is aiming to earn its first NCAA tournament berth in five years can cling to that and look forward to the many nights remaining on which it will not face the eighth-ranked team in the country on an unwelcoming road court.
But between postgame questions in the visitors’ locker room, Zeglinski, a fifth-year senior guard, buried his head in his hands and drooped toward the carpet. Though he entered Thursday’s game as one of Virginia’s top three scorers, he missed all eight shots he attempted on the night. Zeglinski is experienced enough to understand his role on this team and know that the Cavaliers (14-2, 1-1 ACC) cannot afford such an off-night from him.
“Sixty-one’s a pretty good number,” Zeglinski said. “We just didn’t get it done offensively. I didn’t get it done. I wasn’t able to knock down shots. I’ve just got to play better in the future.”
But on another night in which fifth-year senior forward Mike Scott bore most of the offensive responsibilities for Virginia, even brief periods of defensive lapse proved critical. Thursday’s game marked just the second time this season a Virginia opponent has scored 60 or more points.
Scott finished with a game-high 23 points and nine rebounds. Aside from sophomore guard Joe Harris, who tallied 14, no other Virginia player scored more than six points.
The Cavaliers had a four-point halftime lead, but Duke exposed Virginia’s interior defense early in the second half by going to forward Mason Plumlee in the post.
Plumlee scored six of Duke’s first 10 points of the second half and started drawing double-team attention from the Cavaliers’ defense, leaving teammates with uncontested shots. He finished with a team-high 12 points and was one of four Duke players to score in double figures.
“That first 10 minutes of the second half, they came at us with everything they had, and they threw a knockout punch,” Scott said. “But we countered it and came back. It came down to a last-second shot.”
Virginia never allowed Duke’s lead to reach double digits, and even with Scott limited to seven points in the second half, the Cavaliers remained in contention. The Blue Devils shot 60.9 percent from the field in the second half, but they also made just 3 of 9 free throws during that stretch.
“I thought [the Cavaliers] could have folded a little bit and it could have gotten away from us,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “But they rallied back and started getting the tough stops that were needed and made some tough baskets.”
Last season, Virginia held a nine-point lead with 16 minutes to play before falling, 76-60, at Duke. The closing minutes Thursday were far more dramatic.
After Duke forward Ryan Kelly missed consecutive free throws, Cavaliers sophomore forward Akil Mitchell scored on a put-back dunk to cut Virginia’s deficit to three with 47.6 seconds to play.
Scott and junior guard Jontel Evans took three-point attempts in the final seconds with a chance to tie the game, but both shots fell errant to secure Virginia’s 15th consecutive loss on Duke’s home floor.
“We play at a pace where we like the scores to be low like that,” Harris said. “But we’re on a really fine line when it comes to games like these, especially when you’re playing against really quality opponents. The margin for error is just really little for us, especially in big games like this.”