All week ESPN advertised this weekend’s “big” matchup between Duke and Miami, essentially overlooking the Blue Devils matchup against the Virginia Cavaliers on Thursday night. The Cavaliers have been underrated all year and ignored by many analysts even though they continue to stay near the top of the ACC standings. After Thursday night, the Wahoos likely won’t be underestimated or put on the back burner the rest of the year. UVA knocked off Duke for the first time in the Tony Bennet era. Virginia won by sticking to the game plan they have used all year: lockdown defense. The Blue Devils struggled to get into their offense all evening, most evident by Mason Plumlee’s mere 10 points.
The Wahoos started the game on a 9-0 run and never looked back. Although Duke was able to cut the lead to 1 point in the first half and had several chances to overtake UVA, they were never able to capitalize on the opportunities. Virginia took a 5-point lead into the half, which helped maintain some of the momentum they generated earlier in the half. Wooden watch finalist, Mason Plumlee, struggled early and often. The Cavalier defense barely allowed Plumlee to breathe all evening and his first point came with only 7 minutes left in the first half, quite uncharacteristic of the forward that has been averaging over 17 points per game.
UVA’s defense was the same old story, but their offensive production was shockingly impressive. UVA’s offensive success came from second chance opportunities as they out rebounded Duke on the offensive glass 9-1. Who better to lead the Cavaliers on offense than Joe Harris? Harris has consistently carried the offensive production of this young team, but he truly outdid himself on Thursday night with 36 points. Even when the Blue Devils finally started double teaming him with 2 minutes left in the game, Harris beautifully dished a pass to Akil Mitchell who threw down a powerful exclamation point on the win. Harris was already on his way to first team ACC, but he made the case to be considered for ACC player of the year after an amazing game. He has been doing it all year, but this was his biggest game on the biggest stage in front of a sold out John Paul Jones Area and national audience.
The Cavaliers likely solidified their case to make the NCAA tournament this year with this signature win against the third ranked team in the country. It wasn’t just the win that was impressive, it was how the Wahoos finally did it. They took the lead early, held it the entire game, and never looked back. Virginia Cavaliers fans that have been watching all year recognized this young team’s potential, but now the entire nation knows.