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Mike Tobey takes step forward in Virginia’s beating of N.C. State

Jan 11, 2014, 8:02 PM EDT

tobey AP

Less than two weeks ago Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers took their worst beating of the season, losing 87-52 at Tennessee with many wondering if Virginia had what it took to turn things around and be the ACC contender they were expected to be. Since that result: three wins, all by double digits, with their latest conquest being a 76-45 win at N.C. State.

One reason for the margin was Virginia’s defending of T.J. Warren, who they limited to just four points on 1-for-9 shooting. The Cavaliers were also solid offensively despite shooting 3-for-13 from deep, with three starters finishing in double figures and the other two scoring eight points apiece.

Joe Harris scored 16 points on the evening, and since leaving the Florida State win early in the first half due to injury the senior’s averaged 13.5 points per game and has been a more efficient player on that end of the floor. Against Tennessee Harris, a first team All-ACC selection last season, shot 2-for-9 from the field and turned the ball over three times with the Volunteers doing all they could to limit his quality touches.

Saturday’s win marks the second consecutive game in which Harris has shot 50% from the field, and while the shot attempts may not be all that high (4-for-8 in both games) he’s still an offensive threat that opponents have to be mindful of. But even with Harris’ two-game stretch, his play on Saturday may not be the most important development to take from Saturday’s blowout win. That would be the play of sophomore center Mike Tobey.

After averaging 6.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game as a freshman and making the United States Under-19 team that won a gold medal at the U-19 World Championships this past summer, Tobey was pegged as a possible breakout player in the ACC by more than a few pundits. With Tobey up to 7.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game it can be argued that he hasn’t reached that status just yet. But against N.C. State’s talented (but young, with the exception of Jordan Vandenberg) front court Tobey tallied 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting and seven rebounds.

Tobey’s afternoon comes on the heels of a two-game stretch in which he accounted for a total of six points and six rebounds, with the 6-foot-10 big man going scoreless at Florida State. Tobey’s now reached double figures in scoring in five games this season, so the ability to be an impact player offensively is there. The next step for Tobey, beginning with Monday’s game against a Duke team that is lacking in the post, is to do so on a consistent basis.

That would certainly help the Cavaliers in their quest to make a run at the ACC title, because Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell can always use some help carrying the load.