Virginia sophomore guard Joe Harris will be a game-time decision for the 22nd-ranked Cavaliers’ contest Tuesday night at Clemson, Coach Tony Bennett said Monday. Harris fractured a bone in his left (non-shooting) hand Saturday during the Cavaliers’ 70-52 loss at North Carolina.
Harris – the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder – will not undergo surgery immediately to correct the injury and will wear protective padding as he attempts to play through the discomfort for the remainder of the season.
But as of noon Monday, Bennett had yet to see Harris work with the aid of the protective pad, which the coach described as a thermal plaster with a hard outer shell that covers the palm and allows only for finger movement and wrist flexion. The team planned to practice at Clemson on Monday evening after making the trip from Charlottesville.
“I’m sure it will be a little cumbersome, but it’s also got to allow for protection,” Bennett said of the pad.
Bennett noted the two positives in this situation are that Harris is a tough player – he competed most of the first half and 18 minutes in the second half Saturday with a broken hand – and that the injury is to Harris’s non-shooting hand. Harris, who has started every game this season, is averaging 12.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per contest. He also has been the team’s top three-point shooter (41.2 percent).
Harris said after Saturday’s game – in which he tallied eight points on 2-for-9 shooting and five rebounds – that he had trouble squeezing his left hand, which made grabbing the ball more difficult. He described the pain as emanating from the knuckles at the base of his ring and middle fingers.
With 7-foot senior center Assane Sene out with an ankle injury until early March, the Cavaliers cannot afford for its rotation to shrink much more than it already has. Virginia had been operating largely with a six-man rotation the past three weeks.
Should Harris not be able to play Tuesday, freshman guard Malcolm Brogdon likely would start in his place. But the player whose minutes might most be affected by Harris’s potential absence is freshman guard Paul Jesperson.
Jesperson was slated to redshirt this season back in November. Then two players – guard KT Harrell and forward James Johnson – transferred out of the program in late December, and Jesperson’s redshirt was lifted. He has played in 13 games and averaged 7.3 minutes per contest, but he may play far more than that in upcoming games depending on how Harris’s hand responds to treatment and how effective the protective pad turns out to be.
Brogdon has averaged 23.4 minutes per game in ACC play, and that number would rise, as well, should Harris be limited or unable to play altogether. Brogdon is averaging 6.2 points and 2.7 rebounds in conference play.