CHARLOTTESVILLE — In Jontel Evans' mind, there wasn't going to be a repeat Tuesday night of Erick Green's 35-point effort in January when Virginia won at Virginia Tech.
If Evans was going to re-establish his reputation as a premier defender, the second act of the rivalry game this season was going to have to feature a far more commanding defensive performance. He got what he was looking for in U.Va.'s 73-55 victory against Tech in John Paul Jones Arena, helping hold Green to 4 of 17 shooting from the floor.
"I told all my teammates that I'm going to waste all my energy on defense," said Evans, a Bethel High graduate who added eight points, seven rebounds, six assists and one turnover. "I want to show people that I'm still a good defender, and what better chance to show it than to go against one of the best players in the country. I think I showed it today."
While Green had to work hard to score 21 of his 22 points in the second half, U.Va.'s Joe Harris produced a career-best 26 points on 7 of 12 shooting, including 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Akil Mitchell added 17 points and eight rebounds.
U.Va.'s win was its third consecutive against Tech, and fifth in the last six meetings of the rivals. The last time U.Va. won by a larger margin against Tech was January 1991, when the Cavaliers won 86-61.
"I had a lot of open looks," said Green, who entered the game leading the nation with an average of 25.3 points per game, but who missed all seven of his shots from the floor in the opening half. "They just weren't falling. … I can't have a half like that for our team to be in a game like this."
U.Va. (18-6 overall, 8-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) extended its winning to 14 games in John Paul Jones Arena, which is a record winning streak for the Cavaliers in the building. U.Va., which shot 44 percent from the floor, is 15-1 overall at home this season.
"It was pretty solid team defense on (Green), and Jontel was very strong and quick," U.Va. coach Tony Bennett said. "Green got a couple open looks that he didn't hit, but there weren't a lot of them."
With the loss, Tech (11-13, 2-9) has now dropped seven consecutive games. It also fell a half-game behind Boston College for last place in the conference standings.
As he has been for the entire season, Harris was the offensive catalyst for U.Va. in the first half, making all five of his 3-point attempts. By the end of the half, Harris was in the midst of a prolific long-range scoring binge in which he'd made 14 of 22 shots (63.6 percent) from beyond the 3-point line in his last 3 1/2 games.
Harris hit a trio of 3-pointers in the first four minutes — all while being guarded by overmatched forward C.J. Barksdale.
"We hoped to slow (Harris) down a bit, but he came out of the gates blazing," said Tech coach James Johnson, whose team shot 34.6 percent from the floor. "Before we could make the switch and get someone else on him, he already had nine points on three 3-pointers right in our mouth."
"When you see a (forward or center) guarding you, I'm just going to run him off screens and try to make him work," said Harris, who had 17 points in the first half. "Then, they kind of switched things up and put (guard Marquis) Rankin, but I can kind of shoot over top of him."
It took Green until early in the second half to hit a jump shot. His first successful basket coming on a 3-pointer with 16:25 remaining that cut U.Va.'s lead to 43-28.
In addition to Evans, U.Va. used guards Teven Jones and Justin Anderson to help slow down Green. Though Green heated up down the stretch by getting to the free-throw line, U.Va.'s lead never fell below 11 points in the final 15 minutes, and grew to as many as 22 points.
"I didn't feel like they did anything," Green said. "Nobody stopped me. The ball didn't fall in the basket."
Despite Green's inability to score in the first half, Tech still managed to stay within striking distance in the early going. Tech's Marshall Wood and Rankin both had five points off the bench in the first 12 minutes.
After Robert Brown helped Tech cut U.Va.'s advantage to 21-20 with 8:01 left in the first half via his only basket of the half, U.Va. responded by going on a 15-2 run to end the half. U.Va. finished the half shooting 50 percent from the floor, including 53.8 percent from 3-point range (7 of 13).
"I thought (Harris' shooting) was impressive," said Bennett, whose team shot 47.4 percent from 3-point range (9 of 19). "It makes me look like a pretty good coach when he comes out and plays like that."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times