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Duke learning to win without its best shot

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Duke reeled off its sixth straight win in beating Virginia 65-55 and can stake claim to being the hottest team in the ACC, because it can survive the coldest streaks.

The Blue Devils haven't all of a sudden morphed into the juggernaut that many thought they would be when they began the season ranked No. 1 in the country. Rather, they've played through the stretches when they're not dominant better than the rest.

On a night when Amile Jefferson played just 21 minutes because of foul trouble, the team got arguably the best performance of the season from freshman forward Harry Giles.

On a night when leading scorers Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen combined to shoot just 5-for-19 from the floor, freshman forward Jayson Tatum pumped in a career-high 28 points and doubled his season best with six 3-pointers.

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski said afterward it had nothing to do with coaching either. He didn't design plays to get the ball in Tatum's hands. He left it up to the players.

In the second half, Krzyzewski said he simplified the offense by allowing his players to create opportunities for themselves.

"If we don't hold the ball, if we move it, we'll create openings where we don't have to run plays; they can make plays," Krzyzewski said. "That's what we were doing in the second half. We were just trying to move the ball and give them an opportunity to be basketball players."

How many coaches have the personnel to sit back and watch their guys go to work like that?

Tatum's career night marked the third straight game Duke had a different leading scorer reach at least 25 points. Allen did it in the win over North Carolina, scoring 25 points, including seven 3-pointers. Kennard carried the load in the win over Clemson as the Blue Devils' only scorer in double figures with 25 points.

"It's a nice luxury to have," said Allen, who had just five points against Virginia, his second-lowest total of the season. "We all know Jayson is very capable of that. When we saw him hit the first couple, we just kept going back to him. I told him if it's below 10 [seconds on the shot clock], you better come get the ball from me."

Kennard finished with 16 points and was the only other Duke player to score in double figures, but he didn't reach that mark until about 90 seconds were left in the game.

It was Tatum's show offensively. Virginia had no answers as he carried the Blue Devils for nearly a nine-minute stretch in the second half, scoring 12 of their 14 points from 10:41 until 1:56.

Krzyzewski had told Tatum he was playing with too much hesitation when he got the ball.

"Coach told me to shoot our bullets when we're open," Tatum said. "Coach was on me about that today, and I think that got me going. Just shooting when I was open."

Duke's resiliency wasn't just from its scoring. The Blue Devils got the kind of performance they absolutely had to have from freshman forward Giles when Jefferson picked up his fourth foul with 15:35 left in the game.

Jefferson is the one player everyone on Duke looks to and listens to defensively. His exit from the game could have been disastrous for the Blue Devils in the paint.

Virginia immediately tried to attack Duke there, too, but Giles held it together. He dove on the floor for one steal and added another as London Perrantes tried to force a pass to Jack Salt.

Giles made the right plays on offense, too. The Cavaliers' pack line defense can confuse the most experienced big men with its double teams. When they attempted to double Giles on a possession, he spun out of it and made a skip pass. Frank Jackson missed the shot, but Giles rebounded the ball and was fouled shooting.

Giles totaled 19 minutes, which was the most he has played in five games since also logging 18 minutes at Wake Forest. His stat line was only five points and three rebounds, but it was a confidence-boosting performance that he has needed since missing the first 11 games this season while rehabbing his right knee.

"It was a big game for Harry Giles," Krzyzewski said. "If Harry can do what he did tonight, that's going to help us a lot."

Duke, like Giles, still hasn't reached its full potential, and maybe it never will. But maybe, just maybe, the Blue Devils don't have to.