Springsteen was a different kind of loud and certainly more sustained. Stevie Van Zandt riffing on guitar, the Big Man wailing on sax, and The Boss himself at full throttle.
But other than that evening, I’ve never heard John Paul Jones Arena louder than Thursday.
The Cavaliers not only led throughout but also, and most startling, cuffed the third-ranked Blue Devils around. This with starting power forward Darion Atkins still sidelined with a shin injury and reserve center Mike Tobey slowed by the lingering effects of mononucleosis.
“We’re not the most physical team,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said after the ritual court-storming. “I wouldn’t call that a trademark of ours. But today I thought for the most part we were, and it made a difference.”
Here’s how big a difference:
Duke missed 32 shots but had a scant three offensive rebounds, one each by point guards Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton, and one credited to the team.
Translation: Center Mason Plumlee and forwards Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson combined for zero.
Indeed, Virginia’s swarming interior defense rendered Plumlee, the ACC’s No. 2 scorer and rebounder, irrelevant. He played the entire 40 minutes but managed only five shots, 10 points and seven rebounds.
“It was a very, very physical game and we’re not equipped to that type of game, and we got knocked back,” Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
For all of Joe Harris’ brilliance – his career-high 36 points Thursday are the most by any ACC player since North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes scored 40 against Clemson in the 2011 conference tournament – the Cavaliers’ enforcer was Akil Mitchell.
His 19 points and 12 rebounds are career-bests in ACC play, and he keyed Virginia’s 36-25 rebounding edge. Mitchell was also the primary defender against Plumlee, with Justin Anderson doubling.
“He had to earn his catches and he had to earn his looks,” Bennett said of Plumlee. “Our guys really swarmed him well. … One-on-one it would be hard to guard him.”
Of Mitchell, Bennett added: “He’s so active. … His quickness and his nose for the ball. That was the best I’ve seen him. He made a big difference on the ball screens. … He’s really improving, and you can see it.”
So empowered was Mitchell that he good-naturedly trash-talked Duke’s Seth Curry, his former teammate at Charlotte (N.C.) Christian Academy and an extraordinary shooter. The reason was Mitchell’s unusually accurate free-throw shooting: 9-of-10.
“He’s got a little swag to him,” Evans said of Mitchell. “Sometimes we have to tell him to calm down.”
Duke (24-4, 11-4 ACC) calmed the crowd down by rallying from an 18-6 deficit to within 28-26 early in the second half, but Harris scored six points in a 12-2 run that put Virginia (20-8, 10-5 ACC) back in control.
One possession during that run epitomized the evening.
With Plumlee contesting, Harris missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key. But as Plumlee stood motionless, Harris charged past him, gathered the rebound and made a layup for a 32-26 lead.
Inexcusable lack of effort by Plumlee. Admirable hustle from Harris, a a first-team all-conference lock who, with three regular-season games remaining, absolutely merits player-of-the-year consideration.