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No. 14 Virginia dominates Notre Dame, 70-49

Huge second-half run powers Cavaliers to school record 14th ACC win

Midway through the second half of the No. 14 Virginia men’s basketball game against Notre Dame, the Cavaliers once again found themselves tied in a close ACC game, 43-43. It was reminiscent of the team’s game against Clemson and Virginia Tech; Virginia had failed to achieve much separation from the Fighting Irish all game, but once again, the Cavaliers flipped the switch, reeling off a 25-0 run to seize control of the game.

Notre Dame looked helpless as the Cavaliers poured on basket after basket and cruised to a 70-49 win. With a game-high 15 points from both senior forward Akil Mitchell and redshirt sophomore forward Anthony Gill, the Cavaliers picked up their school record 14th ACC win of the season.

“It feels like we’ve had a few of those [runs] over the last three games,” coach Tony Bennett said. “Each game there has been something that started the momentum. It was a good way to finish, because Notre Dame is hard to guard. They do some of the same things we do.”

The Cavaliers (23-5, 14-1 ACC) played strong early on, jumping out to a 19-7 lead midway through the first half. But the Irish (14-14, 5-10 ACC) would fight back, tying the game at 28-28 and forcing a 30-30 halftime tie. Mitchell led Virginia in the first half with eight points, as the Cavaliers shot 52.2 percent from the field. Irish junior guard Pat Connaughton had eight points as well to lead Notre Dame.

“Look at [Mitchell’s] 7-of-7 from the floor, and our bigs were 14-of-17 from the field,” Bennett said. “Akil really found some holes against their zone and their man-to-man, and was able to score some buckets.”

The Irish took an early lead coming out of the break, starting the half on a 6-2 run to go up 36-32. Virginia would take a 43-41 lead before Notre Dame tied the game at 43-43 with 11:25 left to play.

From that point on, though, Virginia dominated the game. A three-pointer from senior guard Joe Harris started the run, and a block from sophomore guard Justin Anderson led to a dunk from Gill and a 50-43 lead.

“[Anderson] is such an x-factor guy that, if you’ve seen him, he comes out of nowhere and can gather and get way up there,” Bennett said. “His timing is really good. He has the ability to track the ball, especially in transition. But, we want him in the right position on the floor. I really think he’s doing the things that are helping us win. He’s doing some special things.”

Anderson and Gill both saw significant time off the bench, playing 24 and 22 minutes, respectively. Bennett said he does not plan out which players will see action in a game — he plays whoever is shooting and defending well. This depth makes it difficult for opposing teams to formulate a plan to shut down the Cavaliers.

“Virginia might be the best team right now talent-wise,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “They are very physical. They are really good at guarding you and they dictate the tempo of the game. I think they are a really confident group. Their team knows who they are on both ends of the court.”

Notre Dame did not score for almost nine minutes during the Cavalier onslaught. In addition to Gill and Mitchell’s 15 points, redshirt sophomore guard Malcolm Brogdon finished with 13 points. He has scored in double figures in every ACC game. The crowd at John Paul Jones Arena was deafening as Virginia continued to extend its lead possession after possession, culminating in a 25-point run before Notre Dame found the net.

“I think it is [one of the toughest places to play in the conference], if not the country,” Brogdon said. “I think it’s a really tough place to play because we have such a great fan base. I can’t speak enough about our fans and what they bring to us during the games, and the momentum they help us create.”

With the win, Virginia moves to 14-1 in the ACC, setting a new school record for conference wins. The Cavaliers also retain their first place standing in the ACC, something the team does not take lightly.

“That’s something that you have to earn the right for,” Bennett said. “I asked them if they were going to waste it or take advantage of it — not meaning win it or lose it — but closing out with high hands, making the most of every possession and worrying about the process and being faithful to that. We use the step analogy, and the next one is the biggest in front of us.”

Virginia has now won 11 straight ACC games — its last loss came more than a month ago at No. 5 Duke — and the team has displayed ability for brilliant performance. Recently, the Cavaliers have faced more difficulty than they did early in their conference schedule, but they have still managed to pull out wins.

“We just play with a confidence that is unshakeable,” Brogdon said. “Whether or not we are down, whether or not we get punched in the face first, in terms of a team coming out and hitting a couple shots, I think we have a lot of resiliency at home, and we play with confidence.”