It's the home games against basement ACC squads that are the most nerve-racking for UVA fans. A likely win is ho-hum. A loss, unexpected but possible, spells disaster. Tonight, the Hoos put the Hokies to bed early and let fans enjoy a season sweep over their rivals and a career day for Joe Harris in a 73-55 win at JPJ.
Virginia has won 5 of its last 6 games against skidding Virginia Tech, while sweeping two of the last three season series. The Hoos have also won 7 of its last 8 games this season and are in third place at 8-3 in the ACC. Tech is heading the other direction; its seventh straight loss takes the team to last place at 2-9.
With another huge game, Harris demonstrated why he deserves First Team All-ACC consideration. "Joey Hoops" knocked down his first five three-pointers, all in the first half, as he finished with a career-high 26 points. He is now shooting 50% from long-range during ACC play, all the while drawing constant attention from opposing defenses, and has played consistently outstanding defense of his own too.
"Joe is the best shooter on the team. I've seen Joe shoot the ball and be aggressive, but I've never seen him be aggressive like he was tonight," Jontel Evans told TheSabre.com. "It was just in his eyes. You could see his killer mindset and that he wanted to get the team going on offense. That's what he did. Getting those first three three's just got us off on a great start."
Harris's shooting kept the Hoos in the game during a tight beginning. With 8 minutes left in the first half, the Hokies scored to cut UVA's lead to 21-20. Virginia recovered defensively, while scoring the next 12 points to take a 36-23 lead at halftime, and never looked back.
After allowing 35 points to Erick Green just three weeks ago, Virginia shut the ACC's leading scorer down. Green scored just one first-half point, finishing with 22 on the day on 4 for 17 shooting (3 for 8 from behind the arc). Though he was still able to draw contact (or give the appearance of drawing contact), Green couldn't get his shot to fall; besides a two minute second-half stretch when he made three three-pointers in four possessions, he was silent. Though his supporting cast kept the Hokies in the game early, the team had little chance of winning without him.
With 73 points in 58 possessions (1.33 PPP), Virginia continued its recent offensive roll. The Hoos also scored 1.19 and 1.26 PPP at Maryland and versus Clemson, respectively. Virginia Tech's defense is often non-existant, and UVA made them pay with another three-point barrage, shooting 47%. However, it's not just the team's shooting that has improved. UVA took 23 free-throws (to 50 FGAs) and turned the ball over just 6 times; both are areas that have held back the team's offensive efficiency in the past.
The only facet of the game in which the team struggled was rebounding; Virginia rebounded 71% of VT misses, compared to Tech's 79%.
Akil Mitchell had another quietly efficient night, with 17 points on 12 shots and 8 rebounds. And Jontel Evans recovered nicely from a down game in College Park, scoring 8 points (tied for a season high) on 4 of 7 shooting and notching 6 assists to just 1 turnover. Jontel has had some trouble finishing at the rim in the past, but had some impressive drives and finishes tonight.
Now that the Wahoos have sent their ragtag rivals back to Blacksburg, more serious work lays ahead. After a three day breather, UVA travels to North Carolina on Saturday, then heads to Coral Gables to play Miami Tuesday. A win in one (or both?!) of these road games would dramatically take the pressure off the team down the stretch.