Notre Dame men no match for red-hot Cavaliers

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Three minutes of good were nowhere near enough to offset 37 minutes of not-so-good for Notre Dame against one of the league’s elite.

Bad with the ball and even worse in trying to keep the opposition from cutting it up on every offensive possession, Notre Dame lost for the sixth time in the last seven outings following Tuesday’s 68-53 setback to Virginia.

“They’re a great team; they play together,” said Irish sophomore power forward Zach Auguste, who tied for the team lead with 10 points. “We took a beating, but we’ve got to focus on coming back (Wednesday) and getting back to our work and our job and try to compete.”

Might be easier said than done for an Irish team seeing their season slowly slipping away at 11-10; 2-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The 10 losses match the total from last season. It also was home loss No. 4 for the Irish, their most since 2005-06.

For one of the few times this season, none of the four captains were available afterward for comment. Three of them — Eric Atkins, Pat Connaughton and Garrick Sherman — were given the night off from answering how everything unfolded after they combined for more turnovers (11) than baskets (8). Trying to get the Irish headed in the right direction has taken a mental and physical toll.

“We’re not the most confident group,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “You can’t inject anybody with confidence.”

Winners of seven of their last eight, the Cavaliers improved to 16-5; 7-1.

“That’s the best team in the league, the most confident team in the league,” Brey said. “They thoroughly beat us down tonight.”

A 9-0 burst over the final three minutes and change of the first half gave the home team and the home crowd some life, but that lasted as long as it took to get a snack during halftime. Virginia returned and responded with nine straight points the first three-plus minutes to bump the lead back to 19. An 18-5 run jumped it to 23 with 11:20 remaining.

“We had to come out like men and we really didn’t,” Auguste said. “We need to come together more as a team. Our minds aren’t all there. We’ve got to focus on coming together.”

The Cavaliers shot 53.8 percent from the field, 45.5 percent from 3 and led by as many as 24. Notre Dame committed a season-high 20 turnovers, which Virginia turned into 27 points. The Cavaliers also finished with 18 assists and looked a whole lot like the Irish used to work in moving the ball with a purpose and keeping the defense on its heels.

“We were sharing the ball, making the extra pass, trying to wear them down a little bit,” said Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett.

Notre Dame finished with a season low in points for the second straight league game. It reached a point where six minutes still remained with the Irish trying to find their way through it with three freshmen and a sophomore on the floor.

Any sign of something positive inside was as tough to find as a road clear of ice and snow outside. Notre Dame didn’t crack 30 points until 9:41 remained — and only after a goaltending call by guard Justin Anderson.

There was a reason Brey classified the Cavaliers the best team in the league last week. Virginia showed it early by carving up Notre Dame with precise, effective cuts on the offensive end, and then buckling down to smother the Irish on the defensive end.

By the 8:51 mark of the first half, Notre Dame had more turnovers (10) than points (nine). In less than 13 minutes of game action, the Irish had committed 11 turnovers — one more than their average. The Irish never led and trailed by as many as 20 in the first half. Just when it looked like it might get even uglier, Notre Dame tossed together some defensive stops, some better offensive possessions and ran off 12 of the half’s final 14 points to make it 34-24 at the break.

“We got a couple stops and when we get stops, it leads to outlets and transition,” said Irish freshman guard Demetrius Jackson, who finished with 10 points. “We do a good job once we get stops.”

Notre Dame delivered a 9-0 run the final 3:18. That included five points from Jackson, which seemingly gave him, and the crowd, a boost. It also helped the Irish weather 13 turnovers.

The Irish fielded their eighth different starting lineup this season when Jackson moved to the bench in favor of fellow freshman guard Steve Vasturia. Jackson had started the last 15 games but was coming off a 0-for-0 effort from the field in Saturday’s loss at Wake Forest. After tying his career high of 13 points against Virginia Tech on Jan. 19, Jackson had scored three points in the last two games. Jackson checked in at the 14:14 mark with the Irish down five. He finished the first half with five points, played with more juice and started the second half.

Virginia’s defensive plan early was simple — double and smother Sherman any time he touched the ball anywhere near the rim. The plan worked pretty well early. Sherman turned it over twice in the first four minutes, which led to two Cavalier buckets, including a dunk. Virginia hit its first four shots – and made it look easy doing so — to jump to a five-point lead.

It reached a point where Sherman was so unsure and shaky against the double team that his best spot for stretches was on the bench. He finished with five turnovers.

Notre Dame sophomore power forward Austin Burgett was on the end of the Irish bench in street clothes. Burgett will have an outpatient cardiac procedure Wednesday to address a rapid heartbeat issue that surfaced in last week’s loss at Florida State. Burgett was supposed to have the procedure Tuesday, but it was pushed back a day because of the weather.

It’s the same type of procedure once needed for former Irish guard Keith Kurowski. Burgett is expected to be sidelined seven to 10 days. There’s also a chance it might be longer.

“I’m really cautious on this thing,” Brey said. “I’m not racing him back here after seven days.”

VIRGINIA (16-5): Akil Mitchell 2-3 2-4 6, Mike Tobey 7-10 0-0 14, Joe Harris 4-10 0-0 9, Malcolm Brogdon 7-10 0-0 16, London Perrantes 1-4 1-2 4, Justin Anderson 3-6 3-4 9, Teven Jones 0-0 0-0 0, Evan Nolte 1-1 0-0 3, Anthony Gill 2-5 1-2 5, Darion Atkins 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 28-52 7-12 68.

NOTRE DAME (11-10): Zach Auguste 4-9 2-5 10, Garrick Sherman 3-6 2-2 8, Eric Atkins 2-8 0-0 6, Pat Connaughton 3-9 0-0 7, Steve Vasturia 3-5 0-0 7, VJ Beachem 1-3 0-0 3, Eric Katenda 0-0 0-0 0, Demetrius Jackson 3-5 2-2 10, Tom Knight 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 20-47 6-9 53.

Halftime — Virginia 34-24. 3-Point Goals — Virginia 5-11 (Brogdon 2-3, Nolte 1-1, Perrantes 1-2, Harris 1-3, Anderson 0-2), Notre Dame 7-18 (Jackson 2-2, Atkins 2-5, Beachem 1-2, Vasturia 1-3, Connaughton 1-6). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Virginia 26 (Brogdon 7), Notre Dame 30 (Auguste, Sherman 7). Assists — Virginia 18 (Brogdon 6), Notre Dame 10 (Atkins, Connaughton 3). Total Fouls — Virginia 14, Notre Dame 14. A — 7,565. 574-235-6153 Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia (32) gets on the floor for the ball during men's NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, at Notre Dame. (SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER)