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Benkert's 3 TD passes lead Virginia past Duke for comeback win

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USA Today Sports

Benkert's 3 TD passes lead Virginia past Duke for comeback win

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- There was adversity aplenty for Virginia in its Atlantic Coast Conference opener against Duke.

Kurt Benkert threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown in a miserable first quarter for him. The Cavaliers' offense couldn't get going against an aggressive defensive front for the Blue Devils. And Duke went ahead late in the second quarter, 14-7.

But unlike recent Virginia teams, the Cavaliers bounced back and won 28-21 on Saturday. Benkert threw three touchdown passes as they reeled of 21 straight points, the defense held Duke to 255 yards and made a stand in the closing minutes to finish off their third consecutive victory Saturday.

"Our offense made timely plays, we made timely stops," senior linebacker Micah Kiser said. "That's why we won it."

Sophomore wide receiver Joe Reed, whose first season ended with a 2-10 record, was a bit more excited.

"We feel like we have the whole season in front of us," he said. "We feel like nobody can beat us, just positivity all around."

Benkert settled down after Jeremy McDuffie intercepted him and returned it 42 yards. A big part of why was that Virginia, whose offensive line was not giving the quarterback time against an aggressive and effective pass rush, went to a short passing game.

"I think it helps a lot when we get the ball out quick because it tires those guys down," he said of the defense.

The Cavaliers (4-1, 1-0) also continued their best start since the 2007 team started 7-1.

Duke's Daniel Jones, meanwhile, had his second consecutive brutal effort against the Cavaliers for Duke (4-2, 0-2). The quarterback, who threw five interceptions and fumbled once in a 34-20 loss last year, completed 14 of 42 passes for 124 yards and two more interceptions.

"I think it comes down to us, and us being able to execute," Jones, who also rushed for 36 yards on nine tries, said. "It shouldn't be about the (opposing) defense, and that is not to say that I don't give them credit, but we have got to do a better job of executing."

Quin Blanding returned Jones' first interception, off a deflection, 58 yards for a touchdown, the first of his career. It gave Virginia a 7-0 lead after just 4:52, but McDuffie's pick-6 11 minutes later drew Duke even in a first quarter in which the teams combined for 37 yards.

"The story was pretty simple," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "We have issues in the passing game. It has somewhat disappeared. When we are open, we are missing them. When we hit them, there are some dropped. It's just malfunctioning."

Benkert finished 24 of 43 for 182 yards. He hit Olamide Zaccheaus for an 11-yard score 45 seconds before halftime to make it 14-14, and gave the Cavaliers a 28-14 lead with touchdown passes of 5 and 17 yards to Doni Dowling, the latter with 7:08 remaining.

The Blue Devils drove into Virginia territory on their final possession with Jones completing four consecutive passes, but sacks by Chris Peace early in the drive and freshman linebacker Chris Snowden -- on only his second play in the game -- slowed the drive, and two incompletions turned the ball back to Virginia.

Inside Zion Williamson's injury, a busted shoe and a busted knee

Inside Zion Williamson's injury, a busted shoe and a busted knee

In the opening moments of last night's matchup between the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the sports world came to a standstill.

The most anticipated clash of the season between two of the most storied programs in the history of college basketball made this the big-ticket event that you did not want to miss. 

Tickets for the bout reached astronomical numbers, rivaling the Super Bowl that took place just weeks ago. Waiting until the morning of the event to purchase a seat? $2,755 on StubHub.

With Ken Griffey Jr., President Barack Obama, and Spike Lee in attendance for the highly-touted scrum, Durham, North Carolina, was the place to be.

And then just like that, thirty seconds after the tip, the sports world stopped.

Dribbling around the key, on the first possession of the night, Zion Williamson's shoe disintegrated in front of the world. The defect caused him to slide, his knee buckling as a result of it and he landed on the floor in pain.

Williamson, the presumed #1 Pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the most brute, physical specimen that college basketball has seen in decades, became human. 

James Gilbert, a board-certified orthopaedic surgeon at The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics who has served as the team physician for Duke Sports Medicine, US Soccer, DC United, the Dallas Cowboys and the Dallas Mavericks, was watching the contest at Cameron Indoor on television last evening and saw the event in real time.

"I don't know if there's ever been an event bigger than this directly in the public eye," said Gilbert. "I've seen it occur in soccer because they have studs in the turf, but never on a basketball court. He's a one in a generation athlete."

Despite being a lifelong fan of his alma mater and wanting to see the most polarizing force in recent memory, Gilbert trusts the judgment and decision to keep Zion out for the remainder of the game.

“I know the doctors at Duke; they would never jeopardize an athlete,” he said. "He's lucky the end result is just a knee sprain, it could have been a lot worse. It's good that the main hospital is only 200 yards away from where he fell."

After Coach Mike Krzyzewski announced that Williamson had suffered a knee sprain, many people wanted the details. How bad was it? How long is he going to be out? 

As in consistent Duke fashion, no info was revealed on the injury and no specifics were given. 

Speculation about the injury began to go mainstream. Questions arose about his future in college basketball, whether he should or should not sit out the rest of his freshman, and likely only season, at the collegiate ranks to prepare for the NBA Draft.

"I've met Zion, I'm sure he wanted to go back in," said Gilbert. "He's had no prior knee injuries to my knowledge and it appears to just be a result of the defective shoe. These shoes are made to grip and cut. They need to start making shoes for larger than average athletes like him."

Gilbert doesn't expect Williamson to be out long, he believes the team was extra cautious in handling last night's situation. 

Zion Williamson will have all the time he needs to recover, and college basketball will be ready for his return, whenever that may be. 

Zion Williamson blows out his shoe, leaves Duke vs. UNC with knee injury

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Twitter/ @TroyMachir

Zion Williamson blows out his shoe, leaves Duke vs. UNC with knee injury

Nothing and no one had been able to stop Zion Williamson in his freshman season with the Duke Blue Devils. That is except for his left shoe. 

Like everything the 6-7 forward has done this season, ripping out of his shoe was impressive.

Shoes don't do that. But of course things are not normal when it comes to Williamson.

After one comprehends what happened to the foot accessory, there is the result of the play that happened in the opening moment of Duke vs. UNC. Williamson grabbed the back of his right knee and had a serious concerned look.

The projected No. 1 pick of the 2019 NBA draft immediately left the contest only 33 seconds into the game. Not too long after he was ruled out for the contest. The initial reaction though is not good. 

As the overwhelming top prospect in the college game, this injury could have huge ramifications on the NBA Draft. Of course it is too early to assume anything on his injury status, but this is right on the heels of the national conversation on if Williamson should shut down the remainder of the Blue Devils' 2019 season. 

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