Duke never got going offensively until late as Joe Harris did it on both ends, leading the Cavaliers with 36 points.
Caroline Rodriguez / The Chronicle
Duke never got going offensively until late as Joe Harris did it on both ends, leading the Cavaliers with 36 points.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.—The Blue Devils did not have an answer for Joe Harris.

The junior scored 36 points—the most by an ACC player this season—on 12-of-20 shooting to power the Cavaliers (20-8, 10-5 in the ACC) to a 73-68 win against No. 3 Duke (24-4, 11-4) at John Paul Jones Arena Thursday night.

“When Joe gets that look in his eye that he’s not going to be denied, he’s hard to stop,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said.

Harris had been averaging 20.9 points per game in the Cavaliers last eight contests, and he wasted no time putting points on the board against the Blue Devils. After Duke missed its first two chances of the game, Harris scored a layup that sparked a 9-0 Virginia run.

The 6-foot-6 guard got his point total to nine by the 10-minute mark off of a combination of layups, free throws and putbacks as Duke missed eight of its first 10 shot attempts, most of which came from outside the paint.

“He killed us in every way,” Duke senior guard Seth Curry said. “He scored off a lot of just tough plays, off loose balls and cuts and rebounds, and things like that. He was the main one whose energy we didn’t match.”

After giving up nine unanswered points to start the game, the Blue Devils were unable to get ahead. Curry missed his first three shots, and Duke shot just 34.8 percent in the first half.

“We just weren’t physical enough,” Curry said. “We didn’t match their energy and physicality to start the game.”

The Blue Devils scraped their way back to within one point by the four-minute mark of the first half as Curry heated up and sophomore point guard Quinn Cook started shooting.

Powered by a 20-8 advantage in points in the paint, Virginia still had a 28-23 lead at the break.

Duke did not take advantage of the slim margin, though. After Curry hit a three to open the period, Virginia scored 10 unanswered points.

“We started the second half the right way, getting to the lane,” Bennett said. Amid that Cavalier run, the Blue Devils started to lose their composure on the road. Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon picked up a technical foul at the 15:10 mark, and Tyler Thornton fouled out with 8:15 left in the game—leaving Duke a guard short for the remainder of the game.

Additionally, Virginia shut down the Blue Devils’ leading scorer, forward Mason Plumlee, holding him to just 10 points and forcing three turnovers with a number of low-post traps.

“He had to earn his catches, and he had to earn his looks, and our guys really swarmed him well,” Bennett said.

Duke’s struggles in the paint continued as Cavalier forward Akil Mitchell also hurt the Blue Devils, ending the game with 19 points and 12 rebounds. The Blue Devils were outrebounded 33-21 for the game, and Duke grabbed only two offensive boards.

With Plumlee struggling, Curry picked up his offense after scoring just five in the first half. He ended the game with 28 points, but the rest of the Blue Devils did not follow suit. Duke went six straight minutes without a field goal in the second half.

In the last 10 minutes, Curry’s efforts did not prove to be enough as Harris answered nearly every one of the Blue Devil guard’s baskets. Behind him, Virginia reached a game-high lead of 16 at the 6:38 mark.

“Harris was fantastic, which we knew he would be,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s just one of the best players in the country, and he had half their points. And when you’ve got a guy playing that’s at that level—their other kids played well—but it brings everybody up. You know you’re playing with a stud. He was terrific.”

When Harris took a breather, Duke scored seven unanswered points, prompting Bennett to put his star back in the game.

Harris fouled out with 40 seconds left, but the Cavaliers had a comfortable seven-point lead to close out the win.

“Overall, it was a team effort tonight. It’s not like I did it by myself at all,” Harris said. “To be honest, I was just really focused and trying to win the game. Fortunately enough, I was able to make a few baskets.”

An earlier version of this story said that the score 73-66.