Virginia takes down Duke, 73-68
Cavaliers knock off No. 3 team in the country, win 16th straight home game
John Paul Jones could have been mistaken for Cameron Indoor Thursday, except the streamers that filled the student section were orange and blue and the capacity crowd chanted “Let’s go Wahoos.” Fans hollered on the game’s first play when junior forward Akil Mitchell did not receive a foul call and jeered as Duke senior forward Mason Plumlee missed a layup on the ensuing possession. When junior guard Joe Harris knocked down the game’s first field goal, fans reacted as if the team had just won an NCAA Tournament game, and when freshman guard Justin Anderson’s block set up sophomore guard Paul Jesperson’s 3-pointer for a 5-0 lead, the arena reached a new decibel level entirely.
That was the backdrop behind the Virginia (20-8, 10-5 ACC) basketball team’s 73-68 win against No. 3 Duke (24-4, 11-4 ACC) Thursday, which extended a John Paul Jones-record home winning streak to 16 games and gave the team its first win against a top-five team in more than a decade.
“I told our guys before the game, I said ‘none of the hype leading up to the game, all of the emotion, really matters because once the ball it tipped, it’s about what you’re doing, getting your game,’” coach Tony Bennett said. “‘But, if you play well, and you harness the energy that will be in the building, then it can be huge for you.’”
It took an ACC-season high 36 points from Harris and the same defensive tenacity that has made a projected ACC also-ran into a legitimate threat in conference play. It required another monster effort in the post by Mitchell to slow Plumlee and another all-around strong performance by senior point guard Jontel Evans. At the end of the night, as the calendar turned to March with Cavalier fans still delirious, it gave the team reason to believe that they may still be playing meaningful games later this month.
“We talked about before the game that we were really looking forward to the opportunity against a team like this and show people how good we were,” Harris said. “There was no fear of the mystique of Duke or anything like that. We were really excited to have the opportunity to play against them and I knew I needed to be assertive and aggressive from the get-go.
Led by a sublime career night by Harris, Virginia led wire-to-wire against the ACC powerhouse to snap an eight-game losing streak against the Blue Devils. Harris scored 21 second-half points on a masterful array of picturesque jumpers and strong drives through the paint, and even assumed ball handling duties down the stretch to handle Duke’s press as a late scoring barrage closed the deficit to five in the final minute. Harris’ first 3-pointer of the night with 7:13 remaining gave Virginia a 14-point lead, and he finished 12-for-20 from the field with seven rebounds and made 10-of-12 free throws.
“Harris was fantastic,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He is just one of the best players in the country. He had half their points and when you have a guy playing that well, it breaks everybody up. You know you’re playing with a stud.”
Virginia led by 16 with 6:38 to play, but Duke did not go quietly down the stretch. Duke sophomore guard Quinn Cook, who scored 22 points and sunk four 3-pointers, answered a pair of Mitchell free throws with a long ball from the left wing. After a Mitchell turnover, Plumlee added two points at the line and Curry, who scored a team-high 28 points, followed that with a mid-range jumper for a light-speed 7-0 run to bring Duke within nine.
The Cavaliers calmly answered the Blue Devil rally. After Jesperson missed a short jumper, Anderson elevated over Plumlee and hammered home a one-handed follow slam to put his team back up by a dozen with just under four minutes to play. Harris added another two on the team’s next possession, rebounding his own miss and putting in the lay-up to push the lead back up to 14. With 1:29 to play, Harris drew a double-team at the top of the key, and with the shot clock winding down, he slyly swung a pass to a cutting Mitchell for a thunderous game-sealing slam, putting Virginia ahead by 13.
Mitchell finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds and held Plumlee to just 2-of-5 shooting. He and Evans punished the Blue Devils in the pick-and-roll game to help give the Cavaliers their first win against Duke since 2007.
“I’m gonna remember this forever,” Evans said. “When you come into the ACC you always want to beat the top teams. That’s why I came here is to play against teams like that. Duke is a great team, they got great history over there and just to beat them for the first time in my last year is just a great feeling.”
Eleven years to the day since the team’s last win against a top-5 opponent—a win against these same Blue Devils in Charlottesville—the Cavaliers broke through again. It guaranteed the Cavaliers a second straight 20-win season for the first time since 1991-93 and gave Bennett his first win against the Blue Devils as coach at Virginia. Fans stormed the court after the game and embraced a Cavalier team that appears headed to a second straight NCAA Tournament berth.
“To beat them at home and have the fans rush the court, it’s a dream come true,” Mitchell said.
The “Wahoo Nation” has had plenty to cheer about over the past three months, a dizzying stretch that has put a team ticketed for a long season back into contention in the ACC. Since Delaware shocked the home crowd Nov. 3 to prevent the team from advancing to the finals in New York of the NIT Season Tip-off—a trip that appeared a formality until that loss—the Cavaliers have not been defeated at John Paul Jones. Virginia set the school record Thursday with its 17th home win of the season.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a lot of pretty special settings, and this one ranked up there with how loud it was,” Bennett said. “That’s home court advantage.”
Check out the aftermath of the game as fans storm the court: