Virginia vs. Duke: Cavaliers hold Duke to season low in points, but fall short on offense in loss

Virginia head basketball coach Tony Bennett directs his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Duke in Charlottesville, Va., Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia head basketball coach Tony Bennett directs his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Duke in Charlottesville, Va., Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (Steve Helber - AP)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2011; 12:33 AM

CHARLOTTESVILLE - At John Paul Jones Arena this season, "just one of those nights" has become an exasperatingly common occurrence for the Virginia Cavaliers. Coach Tony Bennett insisted following Wednesday's 56-41 loss to Duke that the Cavaliers' offense was better than it had just displayed, and at this point one has to wonder who he was trying harder to convince: his audience or himself.

Virginia held the No. 5 team in the nation to its season-low point total and confined all-ACC forward Kyle Singler to a stat line that included two points and five turnovers. And still, the Cavaliers lost by 15 in large part because they shot 28.6 percent from the field and made just 3 of 12 shots from three-point range.

"It was just one of those nights," freshman guard Joe Harris said.

Only Wednesday's performance marked the fourth time this season that Virginia had been held to fewer than 50 points at home and the fifth time the Cavaliers (12-13, 3-8 ACC) had been held to lower than 36 percent shooting on the JPJ court.

Virginia held Duke - which entered the game averaging 84.3 points - to 22 in the second half, an achievement undermined by the Cavaliers' own offensive frailty. It took nearly the first nine minutes of the second half for Virginia to make more than one shot from the field. The Cavaliers made only six shots after the break.

"I'm frustrated because I feel like we're better than that," Bennett said. "Let's call it what it is: You've got to be able to make some baskets. You've got to be able to hit some shots. And there was a large stretch in the second half when we got some pretty good looks and the ball just wouldn't go in. But you can't be in a game when you're shooting that percentage or struggling offensively like that."

Senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan, Virginia's leading scorer, tallied a team-high 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting. The layup he made with just more than two minutes remaining in the game assured that the Cavaliers would avoid not having a single player score in double digits - for the third time this season.

But it wasn't just Farrakhan whose shots were allergic to the net. Harris shot 2 for 11 from the field. Junior guard Sammy Zeglinski shot 1 for 7.

Duke (24-2, 11-1) did not dominate Wednesday night's contest, but the Blue Devils did make a more concerted effort than any Virginia opponent had in recent weeks of exploiting the Cavaliers' apparent weaknesses.

"It's tough, but when you're being stagnant like we were at times, it's tough to get shots anyways," Harris said.

Virginia's efforts were further constrained when Jontel Evans went down with a left Achilles' tendon injury early in the second half. Evans returned a few minutes later, but then he had to leave again after suffering from cramps that he said spanned both legs and up into his back. Evans said he expects to play Saturday against Virginia Tech.

The Cavaliers hope to fare better against the Hokies' front court than they did against Duke's, which took advantage of Virginia's deficient post depth to the tune of 30 points in the paint. Several times the Blue Devils caught Virginia off guard on alley-oop passes.

"Some of that is ball pressure, some of that is vision," Bennett said. "In the first half a couple of times we were a little un-alert. There were a few miscommunications in the first half. . . . But they're a hard guard because they have the size and they can spread you out. And certainly, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler can hurt you when they need a bucket. They can create their own."

For now, it appears Bennett is unable to say the same about his own squad.

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