With the clock approaching midnight on Thursday night, Virginia junior Akil Mitchell was asked to consider how Virginia had led No. 3 Duke from buzzer to buzzer in a 73-68 victory. His thoughts then drifted to the raucous sellout crowd that had swarmed the John Paul Jones Arena floor in celebration of the Cavaliers’ first win over a top-five team in 11 years.
“We’re a different team at home. We play with a lot more confidence,” said Mitchell, who was losing his voice after screaming his way to a 19-point, 12-rebound performance. “Everyone knows the rims, I guess.”
This will be the main issue confronting the Cavaliers over the next week as they focus on earning consecutive at-large berths into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1994-1995. Now armed with a signature victory that should come in handy on Selection Sunday, Virginia (20-8, 10-5 ACC) takes to the road for two games, starting with Sunday afternoon’s tilt at Boston College (12-16, 4-11).
The Cavaliers have reeled off 16 straight victories at John Paul Jones Arena but have struggled away from Charlottesville since they pulled off an upset at Wisconsin back in November. Since then, Virginia is just 2-6 away from home, with wins over last-place Virginia Tech and Maryland.
And if the Cavaliers need any reminder about how tricky the trip to Chestnut Hill, Mass., can be, they need only look at the team that had previously upset Duke. After Maryland enjoyed a court-storming victory against the Blue Devils on Feb. 16, the Terrapins promptly lost their next game at Boston College.
“You go on the road, we found out, it’s hard,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “I don’t think we’re overconfident. That’d be a big mistake.”
The presence of Joe Harris should buoy Virginia in an atmosphere that likely will be underwhelming compared to that of Thursday’s game. The 6-foot-6 guard scored 36 points against the Blue Devils, the third time in five games he has set a new career high.
Harris is the only player to be ranked among the ACC’s top 10 in overall field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free throw percentage. His efficiency, combined with a breakout performance on national television, has thrust him into the discussion for ACC player of the year.
“If people didn’t know about him before, they definitely know about him now,” point guard Jontel Evans said. “He had a great game on one of the biggest stages of college basketball against one of the best teams in the country. He definitely has a reputation now.”
In typical form, Harris cared little about any praise heaped his way Thursday night. He emphasized that the victory over Duke was a team effort. When asked about Virginia’s NCAA tournament chances, he declined to make any bold declarations, insisting that the Cavaliers must “finish the year on a high note.”
It’s exactly the sort of attitude Bennett hopes the rest of the team adopts as it comes down from the high of an emotional win and heads to less-friendly confines.
“I think it’s important how we handle this and move forward,” Bennett said. “Enjoy the moment, which I think they did certainly. We’ll let them have that fun, but then let’s keep playing good basketball. That’s the joy for me.”