DURHAM, N.C. — Ratings magnet Duke and its iconic arena, Cameron Indoor Stadium, were naturals for the ACC's Big Monday debut. With the league taking over the coveted television window from the Big East, ESPN wanted to showcase two of the conference's best in a raucous setting.
That Virginia was the opponent spoke to the expectations surrounding Tony Bennett's squad this season.
And sure enough, at 3-0 in the ACC, the Cavaliers strolled into Cameron with a better-than-credible chance of ending a 15-game losing streak here that dates to 1995.
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Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.
Their chances improved exponentially when a late-game binge gave them a final-minute lead. But an offensive rebound, kind bounce and frazzled decisive possession sent Virginia home with a 69-65 defeat.
"Virginia's terrific," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They're as well-coached as any team in the country. They're strong, (and Joe) Harris — I just think he's as good a player as there is the country. He's a coach's dream, really."
Indeed, credit the Cavaliers for a 13-1 run that nearly erased 30 minutes of ineffective offense. Ignited by Malcolm Brogdon's drives, Harris' all-around play and Justin Anderson's acrobatic tip-in, Virginia seized its only lead, 65-64, on two Brogdon free throws with 36.5 seconds remaining.
"That thing," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, "could have gotten away."
But Amile Jefferson's offensive rebound led to a Rasheed Sulaimon 3-pointer that hit plenty of rim before dropping through with 18.8 seconds left. Jefferson foiled Virginia's next possession by deflecting an Akil Mitchell pass intended for Harris, who was spotting up for a potential game-winning 3-pointer.
Good on Bennett for diagraming such a set, to play for the road win rather than overtime. And good on Duke for defending the play well.
"I told the guys, 'Don't hang your head after that,'" Bennett said.
Saturday, Virginia lassoed North Carolina State's best player and the ACC's leading scorer, T.J. Warren. The Cavaliers did the same Monday to Duke freshman star Jabari Parker (eight points on 3-of-11 shooting), but unlike the Wolfpack's, the Blue Devils' role players delivered.
Specifically, Sulaimon scored a season-high 21 points, while Jefferson contributed 10 points and a career-best 15 rebounds. Entering Monday, the two averaged only 13.6 points per game.
Coaching from his right knee in front of the bench for much of the night, Krzyzewski was especially engaged on the defensive end, where his team has been sorely lacking. Moreover, Krzyzewski often substituted in waves of five.
Motivational gimmick or sage tactics, the moves worked.
This was the first Duke team outside the top 10 — the Blue Devils are No. 23 — that Virginia (12-5, 3-1 ACC) had faced since 2003 and the lowest ranked Devils bunch the Cavaliers had encountered since 1996, when Duke was unranked.
After the victory, an emotional Krzyzewski said his team's 1-2 ACC start, including a late-game meltdown at Clemson on Saturday, was his fault. He said he hadn't coached well since Dec. 26.
That's the day his older brother, a retired Chicago fireman, died.
"We haven't been at our best since the start of conference," Krzyzewski said, "and I haven't been at my best since Christmas."
Virginia defeated Duke last season in Charlottesville behind Harris' career-high 36 points, plus 19 points and 12 rebounds from Mitchell. The Cavaliers also limited the Blue Devils to 39.6 percent shooting.
Change of venue notwithstanding, the elements were in place for a repeat.
With Mitchell, Mike Tobey and Anthony Gill, Virginia was positioned to challenge Duke inside, where the Blue Devils are undersized and lack depth. After early-season hiccups, Harris was approaching his All-ACC form of last year, and in three conference games, Virginia's defense had harassed opponents into 31.7-percent shooting combined.
But Duke (13-4, 2-2) shot a decent 44.9 percent and made 10-of-22 from beyond the arc to beat Virginia in Cameron for the 16th consecutive time.
The last Cavaliers team to win here, 1995, was the program's best of the last 25 years. Coached by Jeff Jones and led by Harold Deane and Junior Burrough, they shared the ACC regular-season title and reached the NCAA tournament's Elite Eight.
Most of Virginia's subsequent losses at Duke were landslides.
Big Monday's was not, just as ESPN planned.