The last time Virginia played Boston College, freshman guard Joe Harris served as a spark off the bench. When Virginia hosts the Eagles this Saturday, Harris will enter the game as the team's second leading scorer.
Since tallying 11 points in a reserve role against Boston College (16-11, 6-7) Jan. 19, Harris has become a regular in the Cavaliers' starting lineup. Although he is a freshman, the team has increasingly relied on Harris to guide them.
"Joe doesn't play like a freshman," junior guard Sammy Zeglinski said. "You can see he makes big shots during games. He's matured a lot throughout the season and is in a good rhythm right now."
Harris's latest big shot helped seal Virginia's 62-56 win against Georgia Tech Wednesday night. Trailing 55-46, the Yellow Jackets mounted a late charge and cut the Cavaliers' lead to three points with 55 seconds remaining. Harris knocked down a critical three on Virginia's next possession, though, and gave the team a much-needed cushion.
"That was at the end of the shot clock and I was glad to see him really step up and knock it down," coach Tony Bennett said of the shot. Harris "has had a couple of those shots late in games and either didn't shoot them or had not hit them, and this time, he did. Hopefully he grew up right before our eyes."
Harris's maturation adds a weapon the team missed while at Chestnut Hill. During that matchup, Virginia (14-13, 5-8 ACC) rallied from a 13-point deficit to grab a 57-56 lead with 6:40 remaining. Boston College junior guard Reggie Jackson knocked down a late three, however, and then hit all four of his final free throws to hand Boston College a 70-67 win.
Jackson leads a strong 1-2 punch for the Eagles. He and senior forward Joe Trapani both rank among the conference's top-10 in scoring, averaging 18.2 and 14.7 points a game, respectively. Virginia allowed Jackson to post 16 points and seven boards at Boston College, but will emphasize stronger pressure against the guard during this bout.
We need "to frustrate him and make him take contested shots for 40 minutes," Zeglinski said. "It's going to be all five defenders against the ball. Just being in the right position, making him work to get shots and contesting everything."
The Cavaliers are tied for second in the ACC in scoring defense, surrendering only 62.4 points a night. The team has held its previous three opponents to 56 points or less and earned a two-game winning streak in the process. Virginia will look to its stingy defense to halt an Eagles team which leads the conference with nine three-pointers a game.
"Every time out we've got to put up the same defensive effort, frustrate teams and make them play our style of basketball," Zeglinski said. "If we're able to do that and make some shots, I think we'll be very competitive."
Boston College, meanwhile, is the conference's second worst scoring defense, allowing 70.3 points per game. The team has lost six of its last eight games since beating Virginia, including each of its last two. Although the Cavaliers caved to the Eagles at Boston College, the team is confident it can rectify that road loss.
"We'll be at home where it's a little easier to have energy with the crowd behind you," Zeglinski said. "We want to come out of the gates swinging and defensively lock in early and make it tough for 40 minutes"