Junior swingman Joe Harris scored 17 of his career-high 26 points in the first half as Virginia shot its way to an emphatic 73-55 win over arch rival Virginia Tech in Charlottesville on Tuesday night.
UVa (18-6, 8-3 ACC) got 17 points and a game-high eight rebounds from fellow junior Akil Mitchell as the Wahoos swept the Hokies for the third time in the eight years since Tech joined the conference.
In a series full of close games, this 18-point victory ranks as the largest Cavalier win over the Hokies since an 86-61 victory in 1991.
Virginia didn't just get production from Harris and Mitchell but also frustrated Erick Green, the nation's leading scorer, in the first half to seize control. Though he finished with a team-high 22 points, Green was 0 for 7 from the floor in the game's first 20 minutes and scored just a single point.
Tech's lone double-digit scorer, Green went off for 35 points when these two teams played last month in Blacksburg. Virginia made it very difficult this time around, even throwing 6-foot-6, 226-pound freshman Justin Anderson at him in spots.
This game felt much like the one in Cassell Coliseum on January 24. It was close for a moment and then dominated by hot-shooting UVa in the blink of an eye. By the time the under-12 media timeout came with 11:44 left, Virginia's 16-point lead looked insurmountable.
Harris started the night with three-straight 3-point baskets, leading first-year Hokies head coach James Johnson to say afterward, "We hoped to slow him down a bit but he came out of the gates blazing." He'd make two more from deep before intermission.
Added Harris of his play, "The first half, the basket felt pretty big. You just get yourself in a good rhythm and that's a testament to your teammates that are working hard to get you open."
Though Tech (11-13, 2-9) got eight points from freshman Marshall Wood in the first half and even led for all of 23 seconds midway through, it wasn't meant to be.
Virginia got a 3-pointer from Teven Jones to regain the lead at 20-18 with 10:29 remaining before halftime and never looked back, closing the half on a 16-5 spurt from that point on.
This was the third game in a row that fourth-year UVa coach Tony Bennett saw his Cavaliers score 70 or more points. And in winning its 14th straight home game of the year, Virginia took another step in the right direction offensively even though the defense was lacking at times in the eyes of the head coach.
"We played hard but defensively, we were out of position and a little late on some rotations and gave them some good looks," Bennett said of the first half, when this felt like a close game. "Joe's start at least kept us in the game.
"Obviously we're shooting the ball well," he added. "Sharing the ball. It's an unselfish group...There's a nice blend going on besides Joe just shooting 3s."
The Wahoos continued in this win to be efficient offensively, dishing out 14 assists to just six turnovers. The Hokies, meanwhile, had seven assists to nine turnovers, opportunities that led to 15 Cavalier points.
Shooting 44 percent from the field and 47.4 from 3-point land, Virginia held Tech to just 55 points, well under the 71.5 the Hokies were scoring coming in.
"It was pretty solid team defense on him," Bennett said of the way the Cavaliers defended Tech's best and at times only option. "Green got a couple open looks that he didn't hit but there weren't a lot of them."
The Hokies were limited to 34.6 percent shooting in the game, including 32 percent from beyond the arc. And Tech couldn't do anything with a 20-10 advantage in scoring off the bench.
Aside from Wood's contribution, no other players scored seven or more besides Green. Virginia, meanwhile, got eight from both Jontel Evans (six assists, one turnover in 30 minutes) and Paul Jesperson, who hit a pair of 3s to continue his hot streak.
Evans also corralled a career-high tying seven rebounds while Tech's starting post players only had 12 combined.
"Jontel was very strong and quick," Bennett said of his senior guard's defense on Green. "Jontel was locked in and really worked against him and that's what you have to do. The other guys were certainly aware of him."
Bennett was also proud of the way Evans approached this game as well as the last few.
"I'm proud of him because he's letting his game come to him," Bennett said of Evans, specifically his ability to get into the lane when UVa needs him to do so. "Those drives are so valuable for us."
In the end, while the debate throughout the conference focuses on Green's chances to win player of the year honors, it was Harris who flexed his scoring muscle as a part of a UVa offense that seems to be clicking at the right time.
"Offensively I think we are doing a really nice job of giving up good shots for greats shots," said Harris, who scored 20 or more points for the third game in a row. "We're a very unselfish team and you can that in our play."