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Virginia tops Maryland 61-53, wins eighth straight

Harris scores 19 in Terrapins' final ACC game at JPJ, Cavaliers move to 20-5

With just more than 12 minutes to go in Monday’s game at John Paul Jones Arena, Maryland junior guard Dez Wells hit a jumper to tie the game at 35-35. In its fourth game in nine days, the No. 16 Virginia men’s basketball team was struggling to make any headway against the Terrapins.

On the following possession, senior guard Joe Harris drove the lane for a layup to put the Cavaliers up by two. After a shot clock violation by Maryland and a missed Virginia layup, the Terrapins drove again looking to tie it up.

As freshman guard Roddy Peters went for a layup, sophomore guard Justin Anderson came down on him with a massive block and kicked the ball back upcourt. Sophomore guard Teven Jones found Harris, who nailed a three and sent the crowd into a frenzy. The bucket spurred the Cavaliers to a 9-0 run that would take control of the game and lead to a 61-53 victory.

“That [block] was significant, and it got Joe a big three and that erupted,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Those are those swing plays … and that was one of them.”

Harris had 19 points — 16 in the second half alone — to lead the team in scoring. In a year when his role has been more limited than last season, the second half was a reminder of how lethal Harris can be when he gets hot. After shooting just 1-for-4 in the first half, he went 5-for-8 in the second half to help Virginia (20-5, 11-1 ACC) pull away.

“This is the sign of a mature player — one who can be efficient and senses when we need it,” Bennett said. “Joe wants to win. He will do whatever it takes to win. He is an efficient player and senses when he needs to get going and hit shots … He understands that he draws attention to let other players get going, but then also has the ability to elevate his game.”

Before their second half run, though, the Cavaliers had little success distancing themselves from the Terrapins (14-11, 6-6 ACC) — unusual for a team which has feasted on ACC opponents at home this season. Maryland shot well from the field early to maintain a slight advantage against Virginia, relying on its four 3-pointers to Virginia’s one. Though Virginia took the lead late in the half, Maryland would fight back to enter halftime up 26-25.

Junior forward Evan Smotrycz and sophomore guard Seth Allen each had eight points in the first half for the Terrapins, who found success early using ball screens to open up shooters on the perimeter. Sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon and senior forward Akil Mitchell also recorded eight points apiece to lead Virginia at the break.

“Maryland has been playing good basketball,” Bennett said. “They have won three of their last four. I respect the job [Maryland coach Mark] Turgeon does and I respect their talent. I watched them warm up and told our guys, ‘They are ready, I can see it in their eyes and I hope you’re ready too.’”

Virginia’s offense opened up after the break. After Maryland took a 29-27 lead on a Wells layup, Harris hit back-to-back 3-pointers to send the Cavaliers up 33-29. The shots sent a spark through the Virginia crowd and the Cavalier offense.

“Once he starts throwing up the 3-ball signs, that’s when you know he’s ready to lock and load,” Anderson said. “It’s just so fun to see all of our team just succeed.”

Maryland would tie the game back up at 35-35 before Harris’ five straight points put the Cavaliers up for good. Anderson says he was too wrapped up in the moment to realize how impressive the block was.

“Everyone keeps talking to me about it and Coach Bennett even said ‘Great block’ — and I know I did something really good if Coach Bennett said it was a great block,” Anderson said. “I don’t really know how big it was, I can’t wait to see it, but anything — a momentum swing — I try to bring that off the bench.”

With five minutes to play, the Cavaliers would stretch their lead to a game-high 11-points, 52-41, but again the Terrapins fought back, cutting the deficit to 54-50 with just more than two minutes remaining.

Virginia would hit seven free throws down the stretch — including three from Harris — to the seal the victory. Harris finished with 19 points, his largest scoring outburst since November, but was less interested with his own achievements after the game.

“I was just happy that we got the win,” Harris said. “We played all right, but not our best basketball. A win is a win, though.”

Harris is usually understated after games, but his teammates say that does not mean he cannot let loose.

“Joe has the most swag ever,” Anderson said. “I just don’t think he shows it in the public, but behind the scenes, he’s the swaggiest dude ever. That’s just who he is. He’s a real humble dude. Its easy for a person with his status to be able to go around and carry yourself any type of way, but I think that’s just a product of who Coach Bennett recruits. That’s a product of our team — just a high class guy, a guy who sacrifices his own individual talent for the betterment of the team.”