In one of the biggest matchups of the college basketball season, freshman RJ Barrett scored 26 points for #2 Duke and the Blue Devils defeated #3 Virginia at home 81-71

RJ Barrett
Duke freshman and leading scorer, RJ Barrett, shoots a three-pointer against Virginia at John Paul Johns Arena in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Image: Ryan R. Kelly/Getty)

Two of the top three teams in the country faced off in a game so special that NBA stars LeBron James and Rajon Rondo were in attendance. Virginia’s legendary center and NBA star with the Houston Rockets, Ralph Sampson, also took in the game.

The Virginia Cavaliers (20-2) failed to avenge a two-point loss to Duke (21-2) three weeks earlier. With the win, the Blue Devils are currently in a tie with #8 North Carolina for first place in the ACC.

Duke 81, Virginia 71

RJ Barrett, 6-foot-7 swingman from Toronto, Canada, stole the show from the opening tip. The freshman scored 26 points overall, but he drilled five treys early to put Duke ahead at the onset. Virginia fell behind by 15 points and played catch up the rest of the game.

“That really sets the tone for us and we played defense today as well,” said Barrett. “We were just in our zone and it’s great to see when our team is like that.”

Virginia is one of the best defensive teams in the country. They held Duke’s shooters to only 2-for-14 shooting in the first meeting. However, in the rematch, Virginia struggled to contain Duke’s sharpshooters. Duke nailed 13 three-pointers on 13-for-21 from downtown.

“It’s a little bit deflating when they’re banging 3s and you’re trying to keep them out of the lane,” added Virginia’s coach Tony Bennett.

Virginia guard Ty Jerome played through a sore back. His status was unknown up until tip off. Jerome led the Cavs in scoring with 16 points. Kyle Guy also added 16 points. Guy and Jerome got hot at the end of the first half to cut Duke’s double-digit lead to a mere four points heading into halftime.

Virginia was unable to keep up momentum in the opening moments of the second half. Cam Reddish pushed Duke’s lead back over double digits with three quick treys.

Virginia made another run late in the game to get within five points, but that was as close as they’d get until Williamson threw down a monster dunk and shut the door on the comeback.

Zion Williamson scored 18 points, while Cam Reddish added 17 points for Duke. Barrett and Williamson combined for 44 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists. In two games against Virginia this season, Barrett scored 56 points.

#1 Overall Seed

Duke improved to 21-2 on the season and 9-1 in ACC play. North Carolina (19-4) is also 9-1 in the ACC and currently tied with their rival for first place.

Despite Tennessee holding the top ranking in the AP Poll, the NCAA tournament selection committee tapped Duke with the top-overall seed. If March Madness were to begin today, Duke would hold the #1 seed in the East region.

“They are heading to the East by the slightest of margins,” said committee chairman Bernard Muir. “There was a very close conversation between the No. 1 seed and the No. 2 seed, but the strength of schedule won out in Duke’s case.”

The committee tagged Tennessee as the #1 seed in the South region. Virginia would also garner a #1 seed, but in the Midwest. Gonzaga, the top team out West, is the final and fourth #1 seed. Gonzaga beat Duke earlier this season to win the Maui Classic in Hawaii.

On Deck: Louisville and NC State

On Tuesday, Duke heads to Kentucky to take on #16 Louisville. Next weekend, they host North Carolina State. Coach K will have his team focused on the games in front of them, but it’s hard to ignore their next big game.

On February 20, Duke hosts #8 North Carolina. Duke/UNC is one of the biggest rivalry of all sports, not just college hoops. That will be the first time the two rivals meet this season. They will also meet in the final game of the regular season on March 9. Bragging rights and first place in the ACC will be on the line.

Meanwhile, everyone in New York City is getting excited for the possibility of the exhilarating dunk-machine, Zion Williamson, joining the Knicks next season. The anemic Knicks have dropped 16 games in a row, traded away the Unicorn, and are in full-blown tank mode in order to acquire Zion with a lottery pick.

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