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Virginia men’s basketball gets revenge against Notre Dame 65-53

The Cavaliers’ sharpshooting and tenacious defense put away the Fighting Irish in the first half

<p>Riding a five-game winning streak, Virginia will take on Clemson on the road Saturday.</p>

Riding a five-game winning streak, Virginia will take on Clemson on the road Saturday.

Virginia extended their home winning streak to 22 games in a sound win against Notre Dame Wednesday night. The Cavaliers (16-5, 7-3 ACC) started hot from the field, as graduate forward Jake Groves matched the Fighting Irish (7-14, 2-8 ACC) in total three pointers — doing so with his five three pointers in the first half of play. Wednesday night’s outcome is a reverse of the teams’ earlier matchup this season in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame won that first contest 76-54. Earning wins in multiple conference rematches bodes well for a young and resilient Virginia squad, as the team is heating up at the perfect time with their 65-53 victory against the Fighting Irish. 

Sophomore guard Isaac McKneely started Virginia’s scoring with a three-pointer to open the first half. McKneely is the second-leading scorer on the team and boasts the best three-point percentage in the ACC. The sophomore made two more shots from beyond the arc in the contest. 

However, Notre Dame had answers of their own. Freshman guard Markus Burton finished a layup for the Fighting Irish’s first points of the day and later silenced John Paul Jones Arena on a three-pointer with 11 minutes remaining in the half. Virginia faithfuls may have begun to think Burton’s play echoed his earlier performance against the Cavaliers, in which he slaughtered the defense with 15 points.  

Virginia led just 18-15 with nine minutes left in the half, but the Fighting Irish defense crumbled as the Cavaliers went on a 12-2 run. Both Groves and senior guard Reece Beekman tallied six points in this stretch, Groves hitting two three-pointers and Beekman turning a steal into a fast-break dunk.

With McKneely hitting a three-pointer as time expired in the first half, Virginia coasted into the locker room leading 38-23. Notre Dame did not shoot terribly from the field, succeeding on half of their three-point attempts and shooting 43 percent from the field. However, they turned the ball over nine times, consistent with their ACC-leading turnover average on the season. 

Notre Dame kept things interesting to open the second half. The Cavaliers struggled to pull away from the Fighting Irish — Beekman turned the ball over on back-to-back possessions to start the half. With just under 16 minutes remaining, senior forward Matt Zona made a three-pointer to bring the lead down to nine. 

But turnovers continued to plague Notre Dame and their comeback hopes. With Virginia’s lead hovering around 10 points, Notre Dame had a shot clock violation with 10 minutes left in the game leading to a layup from junior guard Taine Murray. Three offensive possessions later, Zona turned the ball over, leading to another Virginia bucket. Virginia led 57-42 with 7:31 remaining. 

With Notre Dame’s starters remaining on the court, Beekman finished the job for the Cavaliers in the final five minutes. After knocking down a pair of free throws, Beekman added a steal, a three-pointer and a pullup jump shot to make the score 64-48. 

The final seconds running off the clock was a familiar feeling in JPJ this year — the Cavaliers picking up a crucial home win in front of a packed crowd. The Cavaliers have not lost a home game this season but face a difficult conference foe in Miami at home Monday.

With Beekman finishing with 21 points and McKneely with 11, Wednesday night was proof that Virginia’s slow-paced style can win games — the Cavaliers’ last game scoring more than 80 points was almost two months ago, but they still sit third in the ACC standings. 

Junior guard Dante Harris has also been a pleasant addition for the Virginia bench after returning from an injury. Harris scored just four points against Notre Dame but took on key matchups against the Fighting Irish’s top ball handlers to shut down offensive looks. 

Coach Tony Bennett — recently named the most innovative coach in college basketball — seemingly has the Cavaliers revving up to their full potential heading into the final stretch of crucial ACC games. A revitalized offensive attack coupled with a consistently sturdy defense has been massive. 

“Sometimes the shots go in, and sometimes they don’t,” Bennett said. “I thought why we’ve been a better team as of late is we’ve been better defensively, and I think that helps a lot of things.”

Riding a five-game winning streak, Virginia will take on Clemson on the road Saturday. The matchup will be a chance for the Cavaliers to rewrite the script on their struggles in away matches. The game will stream on ESPN, tipping off at 2 p.m. 


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