SOUTH BEND, Ind. — After watching a 20-point first-half lead evaporate to 10 at halftime, Virginia Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett was, to say the least, pleased with the way his team opened the second half and took control of Tuesday night’s 68-53 road win against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
“I got that feeling that it was too easy for us in the first half, we got too comfortable and now Notre Dame is back in the game,” Bennett said. “But then I thought that we really got re-established.”
The Cavaliers scored the first nine points of the second half and held the Irish at arm’s length the rest of the way at Purcell Pavilion.
Guard Malcolm Brogdon led all scorers with 16 points and center Mike Tobey added 14 as Virginia improved to 16-5 overall, 7-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Forward Zach Auguste and guard Demetrius Jackson each scored 10 points for the Irish, who dropped to 11-10 overall, 2-6 in league play.
“I think that’s the best team in the league, the most confident team in the league,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “They thoroughly beat us down.”
Contributing to that beatdown were 20 Irish turnovers, 13 of them coming in the first half. Virginia also hit 28 of its 52 shots (53.8 percent), and outscored the Irish 32-22 in the paint.
“You look at one of those,” Brey said, “and you’re kind of amazed it only counts as one loss.”
Notre Dame trailed 32-12 with 4:33 remaining in the first half when it made its run to make it more interesting at the intermission. Still, Brey wasn’t hanging on the end-of-half play.
“I don’t even think we deserved that,” Brey said.
As well as Virginia played on offense, it was defense that helped set the tone. Virginia limited Notre Dame’s two leading scorers — center Garrick Sherman (15.2) and guard Eric Atkins (14.2) — to a combined 14 points, Sherman with eight and Atkins six. The plan?
“We know they’re good shooters, but let’s at least bother their shots and try to block them out,” Bennett said.
Leading by 10 at halftime, Virginia surged in the opening minutes of the second half, using an 18-5 spurt to break the game open.
Guard London Perrantes opened the half with a 3-pointer and Tobey capped the spurt with a dunk to make it 52-29.
“We were patient and we came out and took some really great shots, and we were in pretty good position defensively,” Bennett said.
If there was a bright spot for Notre Dame, it was the play of Jackson, who was removed from the starting lineup in place of fellow freshman Steve Vasturia. Jackson, who did not attempt a shot in last Saturday’s loss at Wake Forest, hit three of his five shots.
“The coaches and my teammates did a great job encouraging me and telling me to be aggressive, so I wanted to go out and do that,” Jackson said.
The downer? Brey can sense that his team, which has lost six of seven in league play, is feeling the effects of the skid. Particularly his veteran cast of Atkins, Sherman and guard Pat Connaughton.
“I think my main focus is my three veteran guys — keep their heads up,” Brey said. “I think they’re worn down by it a little bit.”
Virginia, which won four in a row and seven of eight, seems to be surging. Tuesday’s game was played after hectic travel forced them to fly to Chicago and bus to South Bend.
“I think that speaks to our maturity and our focus that we’ve developed this season and not letting things crack our unity whether it’s outside circumstances or really anything else,” Brogdon said. “We just come out and try to play Virginia basketball every night.”
NOTES: Notre Dame freshman G Steve Vasturia made his second career start, replacing classmate Demetrius Jackson as a starter. In 22 minutes during Saturday’s loss at Wake Forest, Jackson did not attempt a shot from the field … Notre Dame assistant coach Anthony Solomon played for the Cavaliers from 1983-87 … The teams met for the seventh time. Their previous matchup came in the championship game of the 1992 Postseason NIT. Virginia won that
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