With an overall resume that continues to baffle even the most esteemed of bracketologists, Virginia entered Thursday’s game against No. 3 Duke in need of another resume-building victory.
Thanks to Joe Harris and Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense the Cavaliers accomplished that feat, beating Duke 73-68 in Charlottesville. Now 10-5 in ACC play (20-8 overall), Virginia still has work to do but the ultimate goal of getting back to the NCAA tournament is within reach.
Harris was outstanding, shooting 12-of-20 from the field and scoring a game-high 36 points to go along with seven rebounds before fouling out in the game’s final minute. Duke threw a number of defenders at Harris throughout the night but to no avail, as he was consistently able to find quality looks.
Akil Mitchell added 19 points and 12 rebounds for Virginia, which made up for a 3-of-11 night from beyond the arc by making 51% of its two-pointers and shooting 22-of-29 from the foul line.
Just as important was Virginia’s play on the defensive end, as Duke shot 39.6% from the field and made just eight of their 32 three-point attempts. The goal of the pack-line defense is to keep offenses away from the paint, and with Duke lacking a forward capable of stretching a defense (that, of course, would be the injured Ryan Kelly) the Cavaliers were able to not only keep Quinn Cook from driving but also limit Mason Plumlee’s touches on the low block.
Plumlee attempted just five shots, finishing with ten points, seven rebounds and three turnovers. Cook managed to score 22 points (8-of-17 FG) but tallied just two assists (he entered the game averaging 5.5 assists/game in ACC play).
Virginia has now won five of its last seven games, and Thursday night was their last shot at a “marquee” win before the ACC tournament.
Does the win over Duke mean that they’re a lock to reach the NCAA tournament? When considering their overall resume the Cavaliers aren’t a “lock,” but they have to feel good about their chances at this point.