Notre Dame snubs history, smothers Virginia in ACC Tourney quarterfinals
NEW YORK — It was time.
Time to execute a game plan they believed in to near-perfection. Time to get back to their winning ways in March, when they believe nothing is off limits when it comes to getting games some believe they have no business getting.
Time to finally exorcise a serious Atlantic Coast Conference demon. In its four seasons in the league, No. 3 tournament seed Notre Dame had beaten every conference colleague but one.
And it never really was close.
Neither was it again Thursday. Only this time....
Notre Dame did to Virginia what Virginia had long done to Notre Dame.
Opening both halves of Thursday's conference tournament semifinal at Barclays Center with big efforts on both ends, efforts that punched the Cavaliers right in the mouth, the Irish controlled everything about this one.
When it was over, Notre Dame was moving on to the conference tournament semifinals for a third-straight season following a 71-58 victory.
Like it had been in five previous losses as ACC colleagues, the final score - only this time, in the Irish favor - never really was that close.
Notre Dame dictated this one. On offense. On defense. Dominated a team it had had no answer for in five previous meetings, each lost by an average of 14 points. On Thursday, the Irish led for 39 of the 40 minutes. Virginia led for 39 seconds after the opening basket of the game. The contest was tied for all of 21 seconds.
Advantage, in a major, major way, to Notre Dame (24-8), which moves on to face No. 2 seed Florida State in the second semifinal. That follows a Tobacco Road clash on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues between Duke and North Carolina.
"We'll get here early and watch the J.V. game on TV (in the locker room)," Brey said. "And then we'll be ready to come out and play the varsity game."
It was the most points Notre Dame has ever scored against Virginia in ACC play.
First team All-ACC power forward Bonzie Colson delivered his 19th double double, 21 points and 10 rebounds. Guard Matt Farrell had yet another out-of-body experience of excellence back near his home state of New Jersey. With Garden State governor Chris Christie seated in the Irish section behind the Notre Dame bench and in the locker room afterward, Farrell went for 14 points and four assists with one turnover in 37 minutes.
Senior captains V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia did senior captain stuff. Beachem had 12 points and seven rebounds; Vasturia 12 points, five rebounds and five assists.
"For 40 minutes, every single possession, we did what we wanted to do," Vasturia said. "That's how it's got to be. That's why we played so well."
The Irish ran their Barclays Center win streak to six, the last five coming in less than a year.
"We're pretty good in the postseason," Brey said. "And we're pretty good in this building. I'm really proud of our guys."
Notre Dame had never scored more than 66 points in its previous five ACC matchups against Virginia (22-10). The run of losses included a 17-point setback in South Bend in late January. It was the first of four-straight league losses at the time by Notre Dame, which then rebounded to win six straight.
This one was all but over soon after halftime. That's when the Irish delivered a body blow from which the Cavaliers never really recovered.
"There was no let-down," Vasturia said. "There was no letting them back in the game. It was huge."
A six-point Irish advantage ballooned to 15 less than five minutes into the second half, thanks to a big-time 9-0 run. That featured a Rex Pflueger breakaway reverse dunk and a Beachem corner 3, which made it 41-26.
Pflueger may be the first Irish player to throw down a reverse dunk in a game since former guard Chris Thomas.
"Threw out a little high school stuff," Pflueger said. "That was one of my go-to dunks in high school in fast breaks, AAU especially."
T.J. Gibbs returned out of a timeout with a layup to make it an 11-0 run and 17-point Irish advantage. Against the best defensive team in the conference. Against the best defensive team in the nation, that allowed 55.1 points per game coming in.
Notre Dame moved past that mark following a Gibbs drive and lay-up with eight-plus minutes still remaining. Virginia didn’t get to 40 until a London Perrantes free throw with 6:50 remaining.
The Irish twice led by double digits in the first half and took a six-point lead (32-26) at intermission. Notre Dame led for 19 of the 20 opening minutes. The Irish did it by making shots. Connecting on eight of their first 11 helped them believe. Seriously believe.
"That's how we've got to start all the time," Farrell said. "It was clear we were in attack mode right away trying to get in the lane and make plays - play that way all the time with nothing to lose and just attacking whoever we're playing.
"We did that really well."
After tying his career high with 20 points the previous night, Cavalier freshman guard Kyle Guy missed all five of his shots and had no points in the first half. He didn't score in the second. He went 0-for-8. Oh-for-everything.
Vasturia had a hand in making sure the guy with the man bun got nothing.
"He was a point of emphasis," Vasturia said. "It was a group effort."
A second team all-league pick, Perrantes was hounded by fellow California native Pflueger into a 1-of-9 shooting performance.
Notre Dame held Virginia to 38.6 percent from the field, 36.8 percent from 3.
"We defended our butts off," Brey said. "That's the best all-around game we've played against a great team in a while."
The ball moved early, and didn’t stick as much as it usually did against the Virginia back-line defense. And when the Irish had an open perimeter shot, unlike previous meetings with the Cavaliers, they took it. When Beachem’s 3 fell and gave the Irish a 17-9 lead, it was Notre Dame’s third 3 in the first nine-plus minutes — that matched the number of 3s it hit in the first meeting.
Notre Dame wanted to start fast and attacking and going right at Virginia, and the Irish did just that. Despite turning it over on their first possession, the Irish hit four of their first five shots, including a pair of Colson corner jumpers, to jump to a 10-2 lead in the first four minutes. That forced Virginia coach Tony Bennett to burn a timeout with his team down early by eight.
Colson’s second jumper was ruled a 3, then scored a two. Officials then went back at the timeout to review it and determined it indeed was a 3.
The Irish lead ballooned into double digits — 10 points — following a two-handed dunk from Martinas Geben. Notre Dame hit six of its first seven shots and scored 14 points the first 6:09.
Back in January in South Bend, Notre Dame didn’t get to 14 points until 6:16 remained in the first half.
Having lost 10-straight to Virginia dating back nearly three decades, Notre Dame’s only win in 11 previous games against Virginia arrived way back in 1981.
Thursday’s quarterfinal marked the second time in the last three years that the Irish have opened league tournament play as the No. 3 seed. Two years ago in Greensboro, N.C., Notre Dame won three games in three days to win the only conference tournament championship in school history.
By the time Thursday’s game finally tipped — at 9:46 p.m. — Notre Dame had been in the New York area for almost exactly 72 hours. The Irish traveling party arrived Monday around 10 p.m., and spent two days practicing and hanging out at their Times Square hotel. Finally, early Thursday evening, it was time to board the charter bus for the long crawl through traffic out to the neighboring borough.
It finally was time to play.
And play the Irish did.
WHO: No. 6 seed Notre Dame (24-8 overall, 12-6 ACC) vs. No. 2 Florida State (25-7, 12-6).
WHERE: Barclays Center (18,165), New York.
WHEN: Friday at 9:30 p.m. (approximately).
RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).
ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI.