SOUTH BEND, Ind. — No. 3 Virginia did what championship-caliber teams do — seize command with the game on the line — and the Cavaliers turned back an upset bid by No. 13 Notre Dame with a 62-56 victory on Saturday.
Virginia outscored Notre Dame 21-11 in the final 8:13. The Cavaliers trailed by eight points, 34-26, with 17:11 left in the second half but used 58 percent shooting from the field after halftime (15 of 26) to rally.
Virginia hit seven of its last 10 shots from the floor and Notre Dame was 1 of 6, also missing the front end of a one-and-bonus, in the final 3:45.
Notre Dame entered the game leading the nation in field-goal shooting percentage at 54.8 percent. The Fighting Irish left with their first ACC loss as Virginia doused Notre Dame’s firepower.
The Irish finished at a season-low 33.9 percent from the field (20 of 59). Virginia has now held its last 40 ACC opponents below 50 percent from the floor.
Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team’s poise surfaced during crunch time.
“You’ve got to be a great defensive team, but you got to make some plays,” Bennett said. “Usually, games come down to making plays, and we got some nice stuff off the offense, but some plays needed to be made.
“We put four guards in late, just to try to mix a few things up, but they have you on edge. You know (Pat) Connaughton was a hard matchup and that’s why I went with Isaiah (Wilkins); I thought he gave us a great lift. He has not played in, when’s the last time he played? (four games ago). But he’s just so active, and even though the guy hit a couple shots, I thought (Wilkins) gave us a great lift.”
In a seesaw second half, Virginia turned to perimeter shooting to gain a 56-53 lead. The Cavaliers hit a trio of 3-pointers in five possessions to gain the three-point edge with 3:45 left in regulation.
Notre Dame went cold at that point. The Irish missed their next four shots and the front end of a one-and-bonus as Virginia pulled away for a 62-53 lead.
Junior guard Malcolm Brogdon said team defense helped the Cavaliers defuse an Irish offense that entered the game averaging 85.0 points.
“I think I give that credit to the coaches and then I give it to my teammates,” Brogdon said. “Our bigs were amazing; I thought Darion (Atkins), Anthony (Gill), Isaiah, Evan (Nolte), they were huge on ball-screen defense and (Jerian) Grant’s very productive off the ball screen. Other than that, I just tried to stay in front and not let them reject screens.”
Irish sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson hit a 3 with :00.7 to snap the cold spell and cut Virginia’s lead to 62-56.
Atkins, a 6-foot-8 forward, led Virginia with 14 points. Brogdon contributed 13 points to the Cavaliers’ victory.
Connaughton scored 21 points – 16 of them in the second half – to spearhead the Notre Dame effort. Grant, who entered the game leading Notre Dame with a scoring average of 17.3 points per game, finished with six points and six assists.
Notre Dame erased an early 16-6 Virginia lead and headed to the locker room with a 27-24 halftime lead.
V.J. Beachem, a 6-8 sophomore forward, came off the bench to spark the Irish with 12 first-half points. Beachem swished a 3 to start a 13-0 Irish run for his first points. He added a thunderous dunk on a putback that gave Notre Dame its first lead, 17-16.
Virginia’s tenacious defense took command early. The Cavaliers harassed Notre Dame into missing eight of its first 10 shots in forging the early 10-point lead. The Irish countered with a 13-0 run to take a 19-16 lead with 4:51 left in the first half. The Irish defense locked in during the 13-0 run as Virginia went 0 of 6 with a turnover during that span.
Last season, Virginia beat Notre Dame twice, by 15 and 21 points.
“It shows a lot, that we played them a lot closer this year, but at the same time, we are not just trying to hang tough, we are trying to win ballgames,” Connaughton said. “I think there are
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