Virginia and Virginia Tech endured wrenching defeats Saturday on Tobacco Road, but the Cavaliers’ Joe Harris and Hokies’ Erick Green continued extraordinary seasons.
Indeed, with six games remaining before the ACC tournament, Harris and Green are on pace for historic numbers that merit applause from fans of any stripe.
Start with Harris, a 6-foot-6 junior whose excellence had gone relatively unnoticed until this month. In a 93-81 loss at North Carolina on Saturday, Harris scored a career-high 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting, 5-of-7 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Over Virginia’s last six games, Harris is averaging 22.7 points and shooting 61.1 percent, 56.4 from three.
“Guarding Joe Harris is not easy,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said Saturday. “He can really play. He can really shoot the ball. You can’t let those kind of players stare at you and pull up right in your face like we did two possessions in a row.”
That’s the thing with Harris, who averages 16.7 points. He’s no longer dependent on screens to create spot-up shots. He can catch, jab step, dribble and create his own. If a defender crowds him too much, Harris can penetrate and score inside.
Harris leads the ACC in 3-point accuracy at 49.2 percent. Since college basketball moved the arc back a foot to 20 feet, 9 inches four years ago, the conference’s best percentage is 45.3 by Miami’s Jack McClinton in 2008-09.
McClinton shot 45.3 percent from three in league games as well that season. Harris is at 51.5 percent in ACC contests.
At the previous 3-point distance of 19-9, Duke’s Christian Laettner owns the conference record of 55.7 percent in 1992. He was a remarkable 62.5 percent in league games.
That said, Laettner was a low-volume 3-point shooter, attempting only 97 that season, 48 in ACC play. McClinton hoisted 223 in 2009, and Harris has attempted 128.
Harris is “one of the best guys I've seen in a long time at reading screens, very good in their motion offense,” Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said. “He plays at a very good pace. He knows how to change speeds when changing direction. He shot-fakes, knows how to get to the basket. He'll post up a little bit. He shoots the three. He's a very good passer. He rebounds the ball really well. He's an all-around player.”
While Harris has gradually grown on the sport’s chattering class, Green, a 6-foot-3 senior, has been front-and-center throughout the season. He’s led the nation in scoring for much of the year and shows no signs of abdicating.
In Saturday’s 90-86 overtime loss at North Carolina State, Green had game-highs of 29 points and eight assists while playing 43-of-45 minutes. He even missed a free throw purposely and perfectly in the waning seconds, setting up Jarell Eddie for the tip-in that forced OT.
Green, who averages 25.3 points, has scored at least 12 points in every game and would be the first ACC player to lead Division I in scoring since South Carolina’s Grady Wallace (31.2) in 1957. If Green participated, but did not score, in the Hokies’ seven remaining games (six regular season and one ACC tournament), he would still have averaged 19.8 points.
The ACC’s No. 2 scorer, Duke’s Mason Plumlee, averages 17.6.
In the last 21 years, the only ACC player to average more than 23 points is Duke’s J.J. Redick (26.8 in 2006). Redick shot 47.0 percent that season, 42.1 from three. Green is at 47.3 percent, 38.0 percent from beyond the arc.
Like Harris, Green has been most prolific in league games, averaging 26.3 points. The ACC record book includes conference-only stats dating to 1988, and since, only four players have averaged more than 25 in league games.
Maryland’s Walt Williams 29.6 in 1992, Redick 29.4 in 2006, N.C. State’s Rodney Monroe 28.4 in 1991, and Georgia Tech’s Dennis Scott 27.3 in 1990.
“He's what college basketball … is supposed to be all about,” Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said of Green. “Here is a guy every year has made significant improvements, and has stayed the course in terms of becoming a great player. He averages two points a game as a freshman [2.6, to be precise] and now he's averaging 26. I'd be hard-pressed for anybody to find that kind of jump.”
Green and Harris certainly appear headed for first-team All-ACC honors. As the following list shows, the Cavaliers and Hokies don't’t often produce first-team, all-conference players in the same season.
* 2007: Virginia’s Sean Singletary and Tech’s Zabian Dowdell.
* 1990: Virginia’s Bryant Stith and Tech’s Bimbo Coles.
* 1989: Coles and Virginia’s Richard Morgan.
* 1982: Virginia’s Ralph Sampson and Othell Wilson, and Tech’s Dale Solomon.
* 1981: Solomon, Sampson and Virginia’s Jeff Lamp.
* 1979: Solomon and Lamp.
* 1964: Virginia’s Chip Conner and Tech’s Howard Pardue.
Green and Harris keeping such company makes this a season to savor.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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