For much of the 2013-14 college basketball season, fans and experts alike have been wondering what happened to Virginia senior Joe Harris. The 6-foot-6 senior swingman was a first-team All-ACC player last season and finished just seven voting points behind Duke‘s Mason Plumlee for ACC Player of the Year honors.
Harris averaged 16.3 points per game last year and was Virginia’s go-to player in big games. But so far this season, Harris hadn’t been much of a factor. Averaging less than 11 points per game and taking four fewer shots from the field per game than last year, many were questioning if Harris had made a mistake in coming back for his senior season.
Harris quieted some of his naysayers on Saturday in Virginia’s 78-66 win over Florida State. He scored 18 points to lead the way for the Cavaliers, doing so while taking a mere eight shots from the field. Harris finished 6-for-8 from the field, including 4-for-5 from 3-point range. One of his 3-pointers proved to be the dagger for the Cavaliers, as Harris hit from the top of the key with 2:15 to go to quell a Seminoles’ rally and restore Virginia’s lead to 15 points.
The 18 points by Harris tied for second-most this season for the senior, trailing on his 20-point effort in a non-conference win over Hampton in November. Harris also scored 18 in Virginia’s three-point loss to VCU in the second game of the season. When Harris is on, he tends to produce a solid point total (15-plus) while not taking many shots. When he’s efficient, he’s effective and Virginia is a better team for it.
Criticism of Harris dogged the Cavaliers a bit because of two high-profile losses. One was at home to Wisconsin, when Harris was 1-for-10 from the field with two points, and the other was an embarrassing 87-52 loss at Tennessee in which he was 2-for-9 from the field for just seven points.
But in his last four games (all conference contests), Harris is 19-for-36 from the field (52.8 percent), including an impressive 11-for-19 from 3-point range (57.9 percent), good for 15 PPG. Also vital for Virginia, Harris has had only four turnovers (one each) in those four games. Virginia is 3-1 in those games, and with Syracuse and Pittsburgh playing each other later on Saturday, the Cavaliers will find themselves tied for second in the conference by day’s end.
With Harris finding his stroke and All-ACC game, Virginia can continue to be a threat at the top of the ACC. The Cavaliers will host North Carolina on Monday night.