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No. 18 men’s basketball sweeps season series with Notre Dame, winning 80-68

A strong shooting night powered the Cavaliers past the Fighting Irish, as they remain unbeaten in ACC play

<p>Sophomore guard Casey Morsell had a strong afternoon in his first game back from quarantine, posting 15 points on 86 percent shooting from the field.&nbsp;</p>

Sophomore guard Casey Morsell had a strong afternoon in his first game back from quarantine, posting 15 points on 86 percent shooting from the field. 

No. 18 Virginia men’s basketball completed its season sweep of Notre Dame Wednesday with a 80-68 victory. The Cavaliers’ (8-2, 4-0 ACC) 12 three-pointers and five players in double-figure scoring were too much for the Fighting Irish (3-8, 0-5 ACC) to handle.

Senior forward Jay Huff opened the game’s scoring with a three-pointer from straight on — a sign of good things to come for the Cavaliers. Virginia was hot early on from behind the three-point arc, hitting four three-pointers in just over nine minutes of action. Adding two mid-range jumpers from senior forward Sam Hauser, the Cavaliers took a 16-10 advantage into the second media timeout with 9:51 left in the half.

Notre Dame stayed within striking distance for most of the first half, clawing to within six points after a bucket from junior forward Nate Laszewski — who finished with 28 points in their first meeting — with 4:39 remaining in the half. However, the Cavaliers quickly ballooned the lead to 15 with three-pointers on three consecutive possessions.

Highlighting the scoring burst was two three-pointers from Huff, who set a career high in only the first half with four three-pointers made. Following his record-setting make, Huff took a charge on the other end right in front of the Cavaliers bench, leading to a frenzied celebration as Virginia players swarmed Huff.

“[Huff making three-pointers] stretches the offense,” Coach Tony Bennett said. “It opens the floor for post-ups or drives. There was real nice ball movement and rhythm threes.”

Hauser completed the run with a three-pointer of his own, and the Cavaliers finished the half strong, taking a 37-25 advantage into the break. Along with Huff’s 12 points, Hauser quietly amassed 13 first-half points to lead Virginia. As a team, the Cavaliers hit seven three-pointers in the first half while shooting 51.9 percent from the floor.

Virginia continued its hot shooting to open the second half and further extend the lead. With three-pointers from junior guard Kihei Clark, sophomore guard Casey Morsell and freshman guard Reece Beekman, the Cavaliers started the second half on a 20-8 run to increase the lead to 24 with 12:22 remaining in the game.

The Fighting Irish did not go away, as over the next five minutes, they embarked on a 16-4 run with contributions from Laszewski and junior guards Prentiss Hubb and Trey Wertz, which cut Virginia’s lead to 12. Notre Dame trimmed the deficit all the way to 10 points at a score of 68-58 after a pair of free throws from junior guard Cormac Ryan with 5:08 left, but that was as close as the Fighting Irish came for the remainder of the game.

Virginia reeled off a quick 7-0 run highlighted by a Beekman steal and ensuing dunk on the inbounds following a Clark bucket. The Cavaliers carried their double-digit lead to the final buzzer, winning 80-68. 

The final score marked the second time this season that Virginia has scored at least 80 points after not hitting that mark once all of last year. For the game, the Cavaliers shot over 54 percent from the floor while adding 12 three-pointers on 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc. The 12 three-pointers were the most for Virginia since they hit 15 in their season opener.

The Cavaliers had five players reach double figures in scoring as Huff, Hauser, Morsell, Clark and junior guard Trey Murphy all scored at least 10. Hauser came one rebound shy of his fourth consecutive double-double to begin conference play. 

Surely a welcome sight to Virginia fans was Morsell, who finished the game shooting six of seven from the floor while hitting all three of his three-point attempts. Just like Huff, Morsell’s three makes from behind the arc set a new career high. This performance comes after Morsell shot just 21.4 percent from the three-point line in his first seven games and after he missed the last two games due to COVID-19 protocols. 

“Obviously, statistically, last year he had a hard three-point-shooting percentage,” Bennett said. “But he’s shooting shots with confidence and you just keep working and shooting. Just be as ornery and tough as an on-ball defender and be that warrior mindset defensively. That’s his game.”

While Bennett was certainly not pleased with Notre Dame’s 43-point second-half effort, the Cavaliers appear to be gaining momentum heading into more difficult conference matchups. As of Wednesday, Virginia is one of only two unbeaten teams in ACC play along with Louisville.

The Cavaliers hope to continue their strong offensive play as they travel to South Carolina to meet No. 12 Clemson for a Saturday night top-20 showdown. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN.

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