Virginia finishes off Irish men in ACC showdown

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Coming close against an Atlantic Coast Conference colleague that twice had its way last season and is one of three remaining undefeated men's basketball teams in the country didn’t matter all that much to No. 13 Notre Dame.

A whole lot went right Saturday against No. 3 Virginia, all except the final score.

This was a win that was there for the taking, but when the Irish couldn’t take it, it hurt.

A game that featured nine ties and 10 lead changes saw the other guys, the veteran guys, the guys that have won a lot together make the right plays — the winning plays — when it mattered in a 62-56 Irish loss.

“We’re not trying to hang tough; we’re trying to win ball games,” said senior captain Pat Connaughton. “It’s just a matter of making the winning plays down the stretch.”

When it was over, Notre Dame (15-2, 3-1) saw its 11-game win streak snapped and its 12-game home win run dissolve with its first loss in 48 days. It didn’t turn out right for the guys who had figured it out the previous two league games, because the Irish managed only one basket the final four minutes, committed a critical turnover when it was a one-possession game with 3:45 remaining and again left points at the free throw line (6-of-12).

“We had opportunities that we could have taken better advantage of,” said sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds. “A great learning point.”

The Irish finished with season lows for points and field goal percentage (33.9)

Every time the Cavaliers needed to make a big shot, they did. A bunch of them that just kept one team believing and the other team wondering.

“They played like a team that’s won a championship when they had to down the stretch,” said Irish coach Mike Brey.

Notre Dame had won five in a row and seven of its last eight against Top 10 teams at home. Virginia (15-0, 3-0) won for the eighth-straight time in the series and leads it 8-1.

The Irish knew they were going to have to make some shots over the top of the nation’s No. 2 defense, which allowed an average of 50.8 points per game. For the most part, the Irish did, be it Connaughton and his four 3s, 12 points off the bench in the first half from V.J Beachem or a bail-out 3-point heave near halfcourt to beat a second-half shot clock from Jackson.

What hurt the Irish, crippled them really, was the lack of ANY interior scoring presence. Their bigs, who had been so good, either collectively or one or two individually all season, were simply non-existent in the second half. Starting power forward Zach Auguste didn’t attempt a shot in 10 minutes, while freshman backup Martinas Geben missed two chances right at the rim. Austin Torres missed his lone shot, also point-blank, in the first half.

“We missed some stuff around the bucket, all three of our big guys,” Brey said. “They’re so disappointed. They just missed them. I think they were really excited to play and maybe looking around a little bit.

“We need to regroup and we need them.”

While the Irish bigs struggled, so did guard Jerian Grant, who learned another hard lesson about life in the ACC as a main guy, a targeted talent. Grant opened the week by going 1-of-8 from the floor in Monday’s win at North Carolina. He closed it by managing only two baskets against the suffocating pressure of guard Malcolm Brogdon.

The 6-foot-5, 204-pound Grant was given next to nothing by the 6-5, 215 Brogdon.

“He just spread out, got in a stance and made him work,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Malcolm just didn’t yield.”

Grant didn’t get his first basket until 9:45 remained. Still, the Irish were up by as many as eight following another Connaughton 3. But just when the home team and many in the sellout crowd started feeling good, back came the Cavaliers with seven unanswered.

“They hunkered down and they got after it,” Bennett said of his team’s mind-set after trailing by eight on the road. “We didn’t rattle. Our experience helped.”

With Virginia aggressively blitzing every Irish screen and roll, Grant was never able to get into a two-man game with an Irish big. And when he tried to turn the corner, there was no corner. Only a double team.

“They’ve really been good taking that away,” Brey said. “They’re big; they’re long.”

Connaughton led the Irish with 21 points.

Virginia won both contests last season by an average of 18 points. The Cavaliers led by as many as 10 in the first half, but Notre Dame wiped that out with a 13-0 run.

“We battled,” Beachem said. “We competed a lot harder than we did last year, especially defensively, on the glass.

“We were a lot more competitive and played a lot tougher than last year.”

Having allowed Georgia Tech 19 offensive rebounds and 21 to North Carolina, Notre Dame did a better job Saturday protecting its backboard. Virginia managed only eight offensive rebounds while Notre Dame had the slight overall rebounding edge (35-34).

“A lot of good it did us,” Brey said with tongue in cheek. “I’d much rather give up 20 (offensive) boards and win by two or in triple overtime. We were better there.”

Big stops were staples in wins over Georgia Tech and North Carolina, but those stops never surfaced Saturday. With the game tied at 45 and just over five minutes remaining, the Irish defense got caught in a switch that saw the 6-9 Geben trying to guard the 6-5 Marial Shayok, who faked a drive, stepped back and delivered a wing 3 and three-point Cavalier lead.

“That hurt,” Brey said.

Late in the game with it again tied, junior guard Justin Anderson showed why he came into the contest the leading 3-point shooter at 56.7 percent. His corner 3 snapped the tie and gave Virginia a lead it never relinquished.

“Anderson’s shot in the corner was that an all-conference, NBA guy,” Brey said.

Notre Dame starts a stretch of three of four on the ACC road Wednesday against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are 0-3 in league play.

“We definitely have a lot more work to do,” Jackson said, “on both ends of the floor.”

VIRGINIA (15-0): Darion Atkins 7-11 0-0 14, Anthony Gill 2-5 0-0 4, Justin Anderson 3-6 3-4 11, Malcolm Brogdon 4-8 4-4 13, London Perrantes 2-8 0-0 5, Marial Shayok 3-5 0-0 7, Mike Tobey 4-7 0-0 8, Evan Nolte 0-0 0-0 0, Isaiah Wilkins 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-51 7-8 62.

NOTRE DAME (15-2): Zach Auguste 2-7 0-2 4, Demetrius Jackson 4-10 1-2 12, Jerian Grant 2-8 2-3 6, Pat Connaughton 8-15 1-1 21, Steve Vasturia 0-5 0-0 0, Austin Torres 0-1 0-0 0, V.J. Beachem 4-9 1-2 12, Austin Burgett 0-1 0-0 0, Martinas Geben 0-3 1-2 1. Totals 20-59 6-12 56.

Halftime--Notre Dame 27-24. 3-Point Goals--Virginia 5-11 (Anderson 2-4, Shayok 1-2, Brogdon 1-2, Perrantes 1-3), Notre Dame 10-24 (Connaughton 4-9, Beachem 3-6, Jackson 3-6, Grant 0-1, Vasturia 0-2). Fouled Out--None. Rebounds--Virginia 34 (Atkins 8), Notre Dame 35 (Connaughton 8). Assists--Virginia 9 (Brogdon 4), Notre Dame 10 (Grant 6). Total Fouls--Virginia 12, Notre Dame 14. A--9,149.

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Notre Dame’s Zach Auguste (30) takes the ball to the basket during the Notre Dame-Virginia men's basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, inside the Purcell Pavilion at Notre Dame in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN