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​No. 3 Virginia wins three ACC games, holds on to perfect record

Cavaliers tested early in conference play, race to best start in 34 years

After storming through non-conference play to 12 wins — 11 by double digits — and zero losses, the Virginia men’s basketball team notched a trio of hard-fought ACC victories beginning Jan. 3 at Miami.

Fresh off edging the Hurricanes 89-80 in double overtime, the No. 3 Cavaliers posted a 61-51 win against NC State before 12,929 at John Paul Jones Arena. Three days later, Virginia (15-0, 3-0 ACC) pulled away late at No. 13 Notre Dame to extend the program’s best start since 1980-81, when center Ralph Sampson patrolled the paint and the Cavaliers captured their first 23 games.

Virginia trailed by eight points early in the second half against the Fighting Irish, the sweetest-shooting team in the nation by field goal percentage entering the game. But the Cavaliers rallied, eventually seizing the lead at 39-37 on junior guard Malcolm Brogdon’s jump shot with 10:34 to play.

The teams went back and forth in the ensuing minutes, and Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant knocked down a game-tying jump shot with four minutes to play. But Virginia gave the Fighting Irish the slip thereafter, scoring nine unanswered points as Notre Dame lost steam.

“I think we came out with much better energy, much better effort in the second half,” junior guard Justin Anderson said. “Once again, we end up going up against somebody that can challenge us in different ways, whether it's an overtime game or whether it's down eight in the game. It's always a different challenge and for us to break through and fight through, I think it's great for our team."

Senior forward Darion Atkins led the Cavaliers with 14 points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes. He also blocked Fighting Irish freshman forward Martinas Geben 24 seconds after Anderson started the Cavaliers’ game-breaking run with a 3-pointer.

“Overall, I thought Darion was the X-factor for us tonight,” Brogdon said. “I thought he was terrific on both ends: super-active, scoring, giving us buckets when we needed them. But I thought it was a great team game for us.”

Brogdon scored 13 points while relentlessly pestering Grant — a preseason All-ACC selection — into a 2-of-8 shooting night.

“Grant's so good, and you know he was off a bit,” coach Tony Bennett said. “I really believe a lot of it was good defense. You know Malcolm, he makes you work.”

Brogdon also played a key defensive role in Virginia’s win against NC State.

Wolfpack senior guard Ralston Turner torched the Cavaliers in the first half, putting up 14 points on five made shots as his team entered halftime down 32-31.

Brogdon guarded Turner after the break, when NC State’s second-leading scorer did not score another point.

“I just tried to contest his shots,” Brogdon said. “He's one of the best shooters in college basketball, and I think just having your hands there and active in front of him can make all of the difference.”

As in the Notre Dame game, Virginia shined in the closing minutes. After Wolfpack junior guard Trevor Lacey’s go-ahead 3-pointer at the 9:20 mark of the second half, the Cavaliers reeled off a 10-0 run. NC State did not score between Lacey’s basket and freshman forward Caleb Martin’s 3-pointer with 3:02 to play.

“I was really happy with our performance at the end of the second half because we laid it down defensively,” Atkins said.

Lacey came to Charlottesville averaging 17.1 points per game, fourth best in the ACC, but struggled to score against Virginia. The Alabama transfer finished with nine points in 36 minutes of play.

Still, Bennett said his team has to improve defensively following the win.

"I don't think we are where we need to be defensively — I think we have limitations,” Bennett said. “I told the team it is about percentages, and if you can bother and contend and win the majority of the percentages. … Can you win the majority and outlast them as the game goes on? We have to have that mentality. We aren't going to dominate and we need to win the majority.”

Anderson led the team with 16 points and nine rebounds as Virginia knocked down nine of 10 free throws to NC State’s two of nine.

Virginia’s narrowest win of the season came at Miami in the ACC opener for both teams. The Cavaliers almost gave the game away after leading by 18 points at halftime and five with 16 seconds to go.

Up three with five seconds to play, junior forward Mike Tobey missed both free throws to give Miami renewed life. Anderson then fouled Hurricane junior point guard Angel Rodriguez on his last-second 3-pointer.

Rodriguez walked to the line with no time on the clock and drained all three foul shots to send the game to overtime.

Rodriguez made two more free throws for a 71-68 Hurricane lead with 20 seconds to play in the extra session, putting the pressure on Virginia to score. Anderson answered the bell eight seconds later, rising and firing from behind the arc to force a second overtime.

Miami junior guard Sheldon McClellan knocked down a 3-pointer to resume the scoring, but Virginia soon asserted control, scoring 10 of the next 12 points for an 81-76 lead. Sophomore point guard London Perrantes made five of six free throws in the final minute, when Virginia went 8-of-10 from the line as a team.

Perrantes paced Virginia with a career-high 26 points, also dishing out eight assists in 45 minutes as Rodriguez racked up 25 points and seven assists in a compelling duel at the point guard position.

“We have a young, but very experienced point guard who's very mature and leads in the right way,” Brogdon said following the Notre Dame win.

Virginia returns to action Tuesday at 8 p.m. when the Cavaliers welcome Clemson to John Paul Jones Arena.