UVa Dismisses No. 3 Duke

Justin Anderson and the Hoos celebrated with the fans.

To extend its record winning streak in the John Paul Jones Arena, the Virginia men’s basketball team needed to do something it had yet to do under Tony Bennett. Beat Duke. On a night where Joe Harris gave a virtuoso performance for the ages with a nomination-worthy supporting actor performance from Akil Mitchell , the Hoos did just that by leading wire to wire in a 73-68 victory.

UVa has won 16 straight games at the JPJ, but the atmosphere on Thursday night for the prime time tilt with Duke probably is rivaled only by the Sean Singletary stare game against Duke in 2007 and the building’s opener against Arizona. The Hoos snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Blue Devils and won against a top 5 opponent for the first time since Feb. 28, 2002 (87-84 over No. 3 Duke).

Needless to say, the Cavaliers enjoyed it as they celebrated with fans who stormed the court.

“It was unbelievable. I was excited at first, but then I started getting hot and scared that someone was going to topple over me,” senior guard Jontel Evans said with a wide smile. “But our fans are great, and it was great to celebrate with them. Some of the football players that I know were lifting me up on their shoulders, and we were able to celebrate with the fans. It was a really good win. Duke was the only team that I hadn’t beaten since I’ve been here, so to do it my senior season was really a great feeling. I’m really excited for my team. We came out and played a great basketball game.”

“Once they stormed the court, it was fun,” Mitchell said. “I’m losing my voice already. It’s great to see the fans be happy and feeling like that. I’m starting to get used to it. They get loud for a lot of games, but this was just deafening. You lose yourself in the game and it’s just a lot of fun.”

UVa’s Joe Harris erupted for 36 points against Duke.

Harris finished with a career-high 36 points and the Hoos (20-8, 10-5 ACC) needed every single one of them as the Blue Devils (24-4, 11-4 ACC) made a last-gasp rally. That’s the most points by a Cavalier since Singletary posted 41 at Miami in 2008, the most points by an ACC player this season, and the most points by a Duke opponent since FSU’s Al Thornton had 37 in 2006.

Harris made 12 of 20 shots and 10 of 12 free throws as he dismantled the Duke defense in a number of ways. Jumpers? Check. Drives? Check. Post-ups? Check. Offensive rebounds? Check. Coming off a screen? Check. Dribbling off a screen? Check. On multiple occasions in the second half, Harris came up with key buckets to push the lead to double figures or to quell a momentary Duke push. He also made a lot of toughness plays, including a setting a screen that flattened a Blue Devil defender and at least two possessions where he grabbed an offensive rebound and scored.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski opened his press conference by talking about the performance of Virginia’s standout junior and continued to heap praise on him throughout the media meeting.

“[Joe] Harris was fantastic, which we knew he would be. He is just one of the best players in the country,” Krzyzewski said. “He had half their points and when you have a guy playing that well, it brings everybody up. You know you’re playing with a stud. He was terrific.”

Bennett and the Cavaliers were impressed with Harris’ evening as well.

“It was obviously a big game. Akil was terrific. But, Joe – I didn’t realize he had that many points until someone handed me the stat sheet,” Bennett said. “He obviously got to the line, got some offensive putbacks, a couple in the post. He showed his versatility. When Joe gets that look in his eye that he’s not going to be denied, he’s hard to stop because of his strength and size. He’s playing very good basketball. We needed that.”

“He’s finally got that killer mindset, and he showed it tonight on the big stage and national TV,” Evans said. “If he keeps playing like that, the sky is the limit. His future is bright. He had an unbelievable performance and I’m very proud of him.”

Of course, Harris had plenty of help, particularly from Mitchell. Harris’ fellow junior posted an outstanding performance as he helped UVa dominate the glass and the paint. The Hoos won the paint battle 34-22 and outscored the Devils 18-5 on second-chance points. The hosts also won the rebounding category 36-25. Playing heavy minutes, Virginia’s starting five out-rebounded Duke’s entire team 29-25.

Mitchell was responsible for much of the damage down low where he scored on offensive rebounds and screen-and-roll plays throughout the contest. He finished with a monster double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds. Those both represent ACC career highs.

Evans said his teammate really has emerged this season.

“Akil has been playing unbelievable this year. He’s a tougher player,” Evans said. “Last year, he was overshadowed by Mike [Scott] but I feel like he’s accepted his role this year and made the most of it. He’s been playing unbelievable basketball.”

UVa’s Akil Mitchell tallied 19 points and 12 boards.

The other piece of the puzzle Thursday night, not surprisingly of course, was UVa’s effort on the defensive end. Other than the final five minutes, Virginia dictated the game’s rhythm on that end of the floor where it held Duke to 39.6% shooting. That included an 8-25 night from 3-point range. The Devils’ Seth Curry lit it up for 28 points, 23 after intermission, while Quinn Cook added 22. A lot of that production came in the final five minutes when Duke kicked into desperation mode down 12 (60-48, 4:34 to go). Curry posted 9 points in the final 4:34, while Cook put in 10 in that same stretch.

Otherwise, the Blue Devils found the Cavaliers’ defense to be challenging all night long. Mason Plumlee, the visitors’ lone post threat, got just 5 shots all night and tallied 10 points and 7 rebounds in 40 minutes. Rasheed Sulaimon, who just had back-to-back outings of 17 and 27 points against Virginia Tech and Boston College, struggled to find his touch. He made just 2 of 10 shots and finished with 4 points. Only Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy contributed points beyond the starting five.

“Overall, it was a team effort tonight. It’s not like I did it by myself at all,” Harris said. “We played really sound on both ends. To be honest, I was just really focused and trying to win the game. Fortunately enough, I was able to make a few baskets.”

The challenge for the Cavaliers is to find the energy for a similar overall effort at Boston College on Sunday. That game tips off at 4 p.m.

Final Stats