Virginia guard Kyle Guy (5) goes up for a shot against Notre Dame during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game during the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Thursday, March 9, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Notre Dame forward V.J. Beachem pulls down a rebound against Virginia during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game during the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Thursday, March 9, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Notre Dame forward V.J. Beachem (3) high-fives guard Matt Farrell (5) and forward Bonzie Colson (35) during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Virginia during the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Thursday, March 9, 2017, in New York. Notre Dame won 71-58. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Notre Dame forward Martinas Geben (23) dunks against Virginia in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game during the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Thursday, March 9, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Virginia forward Isaiah Wilkins (21) drives against Notre Dame forward Bonzie Colson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game during the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Thursday, March 9, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
March 10, 2017 1:02 AM
Notre Dame finally beats Virginia
MICHAEL J. LEWIS | For The Journal Gazette
BROOKLYN, N.Y.– For five days, Bonzie Colson and his Notre Dame teammates heard and read that they’d never beaten Virginia, they couldn’t beat Virginia, Virginia had their number.
That narrative died pretty emphatically Thursday night, and just in time.
Playing inspired defense and almost-flawless offense, the Irish dominated the Cavaliers in every phase of the game at Barclays Center, leading for the final 39 minutes of action en route to a 71-58 win in the ACC quarterfinals.
After losing to Virginia five consecutive times in the ACC, and 10 times overall (Ronald Reagan had just been inaugurated the last time the Irish were victorious against UVA, on Feb. 22, 1981), Notre Dame was never threatened Thursday.
Colson scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, Matt Farrell chipped in 14, and a huge 11-0 run to start the second half made sure the Irish would advance.
With the win, third-seeded Notre Dame (24-8) will now face second-seeded Florida State at 9:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinals, after Duke and North Carolina tangle in the opening semi at 7 p.m. The Irish split with the Seminoles in the regular season.
“We had a little more edge, a little more swagger coming out tonight,” Colson said. “I knew we had never beaten them since I’ve been here, but now we’ve just got to keep it going.”
“We came out in attack mode right away, because this was a team we couldn’t figure out,” Farrell said. “Our guys really, really wanted this one, and we played like we had nothing to lose.”
The Irish have had lots of success playing late-night postseason games the past few years (they’ve won their past four late-night starts), but drawing Virginia seemed to be a tough ask.
Notre Dame was blitzed by the Cavaliers, 71-54, at the Joyce Center earlier this season, but the Irish had a few things going for them Thursday: They were 5-0 when enjoying a double-bye in a conference tournament as they did this season, and they were 5-1 in Barclays Center, Notre Dame’s new home away from home.
Thursday night Notre Dame was sharp in every phase of the game, and after a close first half it overwhelmed UVA (22-10) in final 20 minutes.
Leading by six at halftime, 32-26, Notre Dame raced into the second half with a 9-0 run in the first four minutes, with a Rex Pfleuger two-handed breakaway slam the highlight of the burst, and within a few minutes Notre Dame had an enormous 41-26 lead.
“Yeah, I was thinking about doing a 360 (dunk) but I didn’t want to miss,” Pfleuger said with a laugh.
Against a low-scoring, methodical team like Virginia, a 15-point edge feels like a 30-point one, and Notre Dame didn’t let up at all after that.
The offense was spread throughout the Irish lineup, and no matter who Coach Mike Brey put out there, they produced. Seven Notre Dame players scored against Virginia.
“Matt Farrell was fabulous with his decisions all night, off the ball-screens,” Brey said. “Bonzie was sliding into space, we were making the extra pass… we’re really hard to deal with when we get into that rhythm.”
New Haven graduate V.J. Beachem chipped in 12 points, while Steve Vasturia had a dozen as well.
Notre Dame shot 52 percent from the floor Thursday.
Defensively, Beachem and the Irish guards helped harass Virginia star London Perrantes into a miserable game, as the senior shot only 1 for 9 and scored three points, his fewest in a game this season.
“We were locked in defensively,” Farrell said. “We had good routes chasing guys off screens, and when we’re locked in, our offense feeds off that.”
Maybe sick of hearing how they hadn’t beaten Virginia since joining the ACC, Notre Dame got off to a very fast start as the Irish raced to a 14-4 start.
The Cavaliers’ Pack Line defense was shredded in the first half, thanks to excellent ball movement and outside shooting by Notre Dame (shooting 53 percent from the field), but Virginia got back into it with some efficient scoring and cut ND’s lead down to four at various points.
But every time Virginia got close, Notre Dame pulled away again, and the horde of Cavaliers fans at Barclays Center got quiet.
Now, the Irish will find themselves on the “undercard” playing the late game Friday, after Duke and North Carolina wage their battle in the opening semi.
“It should be a great atmosphere tomorrow, two great games,” Beachem said. “We love playing here and I’m sure we’ll get a lot of support.”