DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - If No. 23 Duke turns its season back around and starts playing like a Final Four contender again, the Blue Devils might credit the final few seconds of Monday night’s game as a big reason why.
Duke beat Virginia 69-65 after Rasheed Sulaimon bounced in the go-ahead 3-pointer with 18.8 seconds left.
Sulaimon finished with a season-high 21 points - including four 3s - and Rodney Hood added 14 for the Blue Devils (13-4, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference).
Debuting their lowest ranking since the last time they fell out of the AP Top 25 in February 2007, they let an 11-point lead with 3½ minutes completely slip away before finding a way to avoid a third loss in four games.
“This has to be the game where we look back (and say) that game versus Virginia is where our guys bonded together and became a real Duke team,” said forward Amile Jefferson, who had two big rebounds in the final seconds, including one that led to Sulaimon’s final 3.
Malcolm Brogdon scored 17 points and Joe Harris added 15 for the Cavaliers (12-5, 3-1), who erased that deficit by scoring 11 consecutive points, then took their first lead of the game when Brogdon’s free throws with 36.5 seconds remaining made it 65-64.
“To show that kind of heart and to climb back in and have a one-point lead was, I told the guys, ‘Don’t hang your head about that,’” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “That could have gotten away, and they scrapped and fought their way back.”
His 3-pointer bounced high off the rim and dropped through to put Duke up 67-65.
“It’s the action we wanted. We just didn’t execute the pass,” Bennett said. “It’s a 2-point game. I thought, ‘OK, we’re going to get one here.’ But (Jefferson) certainly had eyes on that, and it wasn’t meant to be on that one.”
“It was just chaotic, but those are winning plays,” Jefferson said, “and today, we made those plays.”
Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski said Jefferson “willed us to win. That was one of the great sequences that I’ve seen, and the basketball gods are good to somebody who does that.”
Jefferson finished with 10 points and a career-high 15 rebounds for Duke, which denied Virginia both its first victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium and first 4-0 start to ACC play since 1995.