By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Had Dante Harris missed an 11th straight game with an ankle injury, the first of Virginia’s two regular-season clashes with Virginia Tech in men’s basketball might have turned out differently. But Harris suited up Wednesday night and played for the first time since Nov. 22, and his impact was enormous in the Cavaliers’ 65-57 win over the Hokies at sold-out John Paul Jones Arena.

“Good to see him back on the floor,” said Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young, gracious in defeat. “Good see him in uniform and participating after that high-ankle sprain, which can be so hard to overcome.”

The Hokies’ fan base might not have shared Young’s sentiment. On a night when the Cavaliers also received strong contributions from Jordan Minor, Reece Beekman, Ryan Dunn and Blake Buchanan, Harris’ quickness and athleticism stood out.

“I didn’t know how he would respond,” UVA head coach Tony Bennett said, “but I just knew we’ve been missing that competitiveness, that quickness at times, and that experience.”

In about 17 minutes off the bench, Harris totaled five points, five assists, two rebounds, one blocked shot and one steal, with no turnovers, and his tenacious defense helped UVA (12-5 overall, 3-3 ACC) force Tech (10-7, 2-4) into 15 turnovers.

His right ankle was sore afterward—“I’m definitely going to get some treatment after this,” Harris told reporters during his press conference—but the pain didn’t dampen No. 1’s happiness.

“It was just a dream, for real,” said Harris, who has yet to go through a full practice since hurting his ankle.

A 6-foot redshirt junior who began his college career at Georgetown, Harris provided a much-needed “injection of some real, legitimate spit and vinegar,” Bennett said, “or whatever you want to call it—fire—and he’s emotional and competitive and tough-minded and he’s played in some [high-level Big East] games, so that helped.”

Young said Harris “offered them another level of grit and toughness in the backcourt.”

Virginia has won 20 consecutive games at JPJ, a streak that started in 2022-23. The Cavaliers are 10-0 at home this season, but they were coming off a 19-point loss at Wake Forest, and that had followed a 16-point loss at NC State.

“We’ve been getting beat pretty handily in our [road] games,” Bennett said. “When you’re struggling, you’re just … chasing quality, and there was more quality tonight than we’ve had in a while.”

The victory was the Cavaliers’ fifth straight in Charlottesville over the Hokies, who haven’t won at JPJ since Feb. 10, 2018, when they prevailed in overtime. The longtime rivals will meet again Feb. 19 in Blacksburg.

UVA went ahead to stay Wednesday night on the second of forward Jake Groves’ back-to-back 3-pointers, a shot from the left corner that made it 16-13 with 10:55 left in the first half. The Cavaliers went into the break leading 25-18 and used a 9-0 run to take a 13-point lead early in the second half.

Four times in the final 14 minutes, the Hokies cut their deficit to five points, but each time UVA pulled away again. Harris’ free throw with 18.7 seconds left closed the scoring and punctuated an impressive win for Virginia.

Tech made more 3-pointers (11) than two-point field goals (10) against the Cavaliers’ Pack Line defense and shot only 38.9 percent from the floor. Junior point guard Sean Pedulla, hounded most of the game by Beekman, the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year, turned the ball over seven times.

“They’re really good defensively,” Young said. “There’s nothing new. It’s nothing tricky. [They come] right at you, and they’re good at it, and I applaud them.”

Ever the perfectionist, Bennett said the Hokies “probably got a few too many open looks, but when we needed to, we came up with big stops.”

Tech center Lynn Kidd came in averaging 14.8 points per game and shooting an ACC-best 67.2 percent from the floor, but he didn’t attempt a shot in the first half. Minor, a 6-foot-8, 242-pound graduate transfer from Merrimack, played a large role in Virginia’s success against the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Kidd, who finished with two points (on 1-for-3 shooting).

“I was just disciplined and staying down on [Kidd’s preferred post move] and trying to contest and make him work for every single bucket that he got,” Minor said. “So that was my focus.”

In his second straight start, Minor totaled 16 points, his high as a Cavalier, and added five rebounds, two assists and two steals. Bennett, smiling, said Minor’s defensive work evoked memories of former UVA center Jack Salt, whose physicality was unsurpassed.

Groves and Dunn have played some center this season, but both are natural forwards, and Buchanan, a 6-foot-11, 225-pound freshman, has been pushed around in the low post at times. That wasn’t an issue for Minor.

“We needed some real legitimate man strength down there,” Bennett said, “and he’s got that.”

Before being inserted into the starting lineup at Wake last weekend, Minor had averaged only 7.1 minutes per game this season. He played 26-plus minutes against the Hokies and enjoyed his first taste of the rivalry. Merrimack’s big rival? Probably Farleigh Dickinson, Minor said with a smile.

“It was definitely a great experience out there,” Minor said of his Commonwealth Clash debut. “As soon as you got out there in warmups, you kind of felt the energy.”

He let the game come to him Wednesday night, Minor said, “and then I kind of fed off the energy in the building.”

As a Merrimack senior in 2022-23, Minor was named the Northeast Conference Co-Player of the Year, but his transition to Bennett’s system, especially the Pack Line, wasn’t seamless. His patience has been tested, but Minor said he believes “this experience has just opened my eyes and has blessed me. I thank God for this experience, even though it was hard at times, knowing that he put me in the right place despite what was going on.”

Beekman finished with 16 points, four assists and a game-high four steals, and Dunn (eight points) pulled down a game-high seven rebounds. In 11-plus minutes off the bench, Buchanan scored eight points, his most since a Dec. 5 win over North Carolina Central, and collected three boards.

“Blake gave us a nice lift too,” Bennett said.

For a program accustomed to success—UVA won the NCAA title in 2019 and is 353-130 under Bennett—this has been an uncharacteristically trying season. But joy replaced frustration Wednesday night. When the final horn sounded, Dunn exchanged high-fives with fans in the front row across from the Cavaliers’ bench.

“I think we’ve still got some things to figure out as a team,” Minor said. “I think we were much more disciplined today than we have been in the past, but we’ve still got some steps to go. But I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: The Cavaliers are in the midst of a stretch that includes seven straight Saturday games away from JPJ. Their next one is in Atlanta. At 6 p.m. Saturday, in a game to air on ACC Network, Virginia meets Georgia Tech (9-8, 2-4) at McCamish Pavilion.

Virginia is 0-4 in true road games this season. Will the Hoos be able to build on their win over the Hokies?

“Tune in to Saturday at 6 o’clock.,” Bennett said. “We’ll see.”

The Yellow Jackets, who are in their first season under head coach Damon Stoudamire, won in double overtime at Clemson late Tuesday night.

Under Bennett, Virginia is 17-2 against Georgia Tech and has won 10 straight in the series. In the teams’ most recent meeting, on New Year’s Eve 2022, the Hoos routed the Jackets 74-56 in Atlanta.

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