Is “Joey Hoops” back? It sure seems like it.
Since missing the Florida State game with a concussion, Joe Harris has looked more like the guy who lit Duke up last season, was voted to the All-ACC First Team and had the attention of NBA scouts.
In his last two games, Harris is 8 of 16 from the field, including 5 of 10 from 3-point range.
In Virginia’s win over N.C. State on Saturday, Harris played great defense on Wolfpack leading scorer T.J. Warren. UVa coach Tony Bennett agreed that it was Harris’ best “two-way” game of the season.
“He was solid,” Bennett said.
Harris’ resurgence has coincided with Virginia’s first 3-0 start in ACC play since the 2009-10 season.
Tonight, Virginia (12-4, 3-0) will need another big performance out of Harris when it plays at Duke.
Since the start of ACC play, UVa has looked like a different team.
“A lot of guys have stepped up their games since the Tennessee loss and I feel like we’ve gotten back on track,” Harris said. “I think we’ve really found our identity and what we need to do in order to be successful. We’re just hoping to carry that over into Cameron [Indoor Stadium].”
Virginia will be seeking its first win there since the 1994-95 season when Jeff Jones was coach and his son, now a walk-on for Bennett, hadn’t been born.
However, the Cavaliers may have run into Duke at a good time.
The Blue Devils (12-4, 1-2) haven't looked good in dropping two of three ACC games, including a 72-59 loss at Clemson on Saturday.
Still, Duke – which was ranked 16th before falling to the Tigers – will be looking for some modicum of payback after last season’s loss at John Paul Jones Arena.
In that game, Harris torched the then-No. 3 Blue Devils for a career-high 36 points.
Afterward, a frustrated Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski complained about Virginia fans storming the court in celebration.
“I don’t think about it a whole lot, to be honest,” said Harris, when asked about last year’s game with Duke. “We played well but we didn’t finish the year well. That’s what sits in my mind.”
Harris added: “The fact that we beat Duke doesn’t mean anything because we didn’t make it to the [NCAA Tournament].”
Since the victory last February, Harris has never been quite the same.
Opposing defenses became more aware of his exploits, devising game plans to take him out. By the end of the season, Harris appeared worn down.
Over the summer, Harris sustained a foot injury that caused him to miss court time. That, coupled with a different offensive scheme and a new mix of teammates, seemed to throw the senior out of sync – until the last two games.
Bennett’s decision to return to more of a structured offense has helped.
“I’m able to move without the ball and get [past] guys who are chasing me and that sort of thing,” Harris said.
Virginia senior Akil Mitchell believes everyone is playing more instinctively now.
“We’re not thinking as much as maybe we were in the first half of the season,” Mitchell said. “I feel like everybody kind of knows their roles and we’ve settled in. We can kind of just attack now and we can play so much more free. We can play a lot harder. Our intensity has stepped up and I think that’s the big difference.”
Virginia is averaging 65.9 points, the highest total in Bennett’s tenure. ... Duke is led by freshman forward Jabari Parker, who is averaging 19.5 points and 7.6 rebounds. Mitchell and Justin Anderson will likely get first dibs on defending him. “He’s a good, young kid,” Mitchell said, “but at the same time he’s a freshman and so I’ll have to show him the ropes a little bit.”... Harris was briefly a Duke fan as a kid. “My dad was a Carolina fan, so I just kind of rooted for Duke to root against him,” said Harris, smiling. ... Virginia’s last 4-0 start in the ACC came during the 1994-95 season when it won at Duke in double overtime, 91-88.