DURHAM, N.C. — Andre Dawkins' defense led to a highlight-reel dunk. His timely scoring helped prevent one loss from becoming two for Duke.
Dawkins scored 12 of his 14 points after halftime, and the top-ranked Blue Devils bounced back from their first loss in 10 months by pulling away to beat Virginia 76-60 on Saturday.
Nolan Smith led the way with 29 points, Kyle Singler finished with 13 points and Mason Plumlee had a career-high 16 rebounds for the slow-starting Blue Devils (16-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who trailed by 10 late in the first half but outscored Virginia 43-18 over the final 16 minutes to avoid their first losing streak in two years.
"We're a different team. We have to know that going into games — we're not going to walk onto the court and beat anybody," Smith said. "This conference is too good for that, and I think we showed in the second half … how we have to play in every game."
The Blue Devils almost certainly won't have that designation much longer, after Florida State beat them 66-61 three nights earlier. Their first defeat since Maryland knocked them off last March snapped the 25-game winning streak that included the run to the program's fourth national championship.
"There's a part of you that sometimes likes your kid to get stung a little bit — like, 'Don't touch the oven,' " Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "You don't want them to put their whole body there. … [But] as long as they don't get seriously hurt, you know, experience is a hell of a thing, if you can use experience to help you and not hurt you."
Duke kept a few other streaks intact by winning its 30th straight game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, its sixth straight against Virginia and its 14th in a row against the Cavaliers in Durham.
And they have Dawkins to thank for much of it. The sophomore made a series of big plays during the burst that erased a nine-point deficit and put Duke up by double digits for the first time.
First, he put the Blue Devils up to stay by knocking down a hanging jumper through contact from Harris and hitting the free throw that followed to make it 45-44 with 12:15 left.
Seconds later, he stole the ball from Harris and found Smith, who streaked the other way for a pretty slam over Akil Mitchell that sent the Cameron Crazies into delirium. The third of Dawkins' three 3-pointers during the run stretched Duke's lead to 62-52 with just inside of 7 minutes left, and Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett called those shots "the dagger."
Virginia didn't get closer than eight the rest of the way, and remained winless in 14 tries on a No. 1 team's home floor.
"Again, 28, 30 minutes, they played so hard and they executed and they did good things, things to build on in a tough setting against a heck of a team," Bennett said. "Then, the last 10 minutes, I thought we fractured defensively."
It helped Virginia that for about 24 minutes, Duke's 3s weren't falling — a major reason why the ACC's top-scoring offense was being outscored by the league's worst. The Blue Devils average more than 86 points while the Cavaliers score fewer than 64 points per game.
Some of the same problems that plagued Duke against Florida State reappeared early in this one: relying too heavily on — and missing — 3-pointers. The Blue Devils missed 11 of their first 12 attempts from long range, and during one 6-minute stretch, they attempted only one shot inside the arc while hoisting up seven shots from behind it. Duke finished 5 of 20 from 3-point range, 4 of 8 in the second half.
"We weren't hitting shots [in the first half], and we let it affect our defense," Smith said. "When we got down, we just had to do something. Coach decided he was going to open it up and let me go one-on-one, and thank God I was able to make some shots and cut it closer, or it could have gotten ugly."
Virginia led for most of the half, reeling off eight straight points and taking a 27-17 lead on Farrakhan's 3 with 3½ minutes left. The Cavaliers led 31-25 at the break — Duke's largest halftime deficit of the season — and twice led by nine in the second half, the last when Will Sherrill's layup made it 42-33 with 16:13 left.
But just like last week — when Virginia led North Carolina by 11 before losing 62-56 — the Cavaliers couldn't maintain that big advantage.
"We've got to find a way to last," Bennett said. "We were there for most of the game against Carolina, and the same thing here. … That's where you can't beat yourself, and that's where I thought we labored."