By Jeff White (email@example.com)
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The student section at Purcell Pavilion, so rowdy for much of the game, fell silent in the final minutes Tuesday night. Reality set in, and the students had nothing to cheer after Virginia pulled away for another victory over Notre Dame in men’s basketball.
The final score in this one: Cavaliers 71, Fighting Irish 54.
“They imposed their will on us,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said.
Since joining the ACC in 2013-14, the Irish have defeated every team in the conference except one: Virginia. In a series that dates to the 1980-81 season, the Wahoos are 10-1 against Notre Dame and have won 10 straight.
“Their overall style wears on you,” Brey said, “and it wore on us again tonight.”
For 12th-ranked Virginia (16-3 overall, 6-2 ACC), the season has been marked by memorable road victories. The `Hoos have prevailed in such venues as Cal’s Haas Pavilion, Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center, Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum and, now, Purcell Pavilion, where Notre Dame was unbeaten before Tuesday night.
“Obviously a road win in conference play is huge, especially against a team that’s been playing as well as [the Irish] have,” senior point guard London Perrantes said.
Virginia resumes ACC play Feb. 1 against Virginia Tech at John Paul Jones Arena. First, however, the `Hoos will play another marquee opponent on the road.
At 1 p.m. Sunday, in a much-anticipated game that FOX will televise nationally, UVA meets top-ranked Villanova (19-2) at the sold-out Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Virginia is 8-1 away from JPJ this season.
“Every game is a big one for us,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said. “Now we get a chance to go against a terrific team in a hostile environment. We’ll have to show up and play.”
The teams met last season at JPJ, where UVA prevailed 86-75. Those Cavaliers went on to reach the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight for the first time since 1995.
The Wildcats, of course, went on to win the NCAA title in dramatic fashion, beating North Carolina on a last-second 3-pointer by forward Kris Jenkins, who’s back this season.
“It was obviously difficult to watch them play in the championship [game],” Perrantes said, “but that’s how it works.”
Villanova blew a 17-point lead and lost 74-72 at Marquette on Tuesday night. Still, that doesn’t figure to take much luster off Sunday’s match-up in Philly.
“Obviously this is a big game for us, another road test,” Perrantes said, “but we’ve got some momentum going, so we’re just going to try to keep it going.”
Perrantes, who battled flu-like symptoms in the hours leading up to Tuesday’s 8 p.m. tipoff, didn’t let his illness deter him against the Irish (17-4, 6-2). He hit 5 of 8 shots from beyond the arc and finished with a game-high 22 points.
“We rode him hard, and he delivered,” Bennett said.
Perrantes, a four-year starter, has delivered repeatedly during his illustrious college career, home and away. His understudy is more unproven, but he created a buzz, too, with his performance in South Bend.
“Who would have thought Ty Jerome was going to do what he did?” Bennett said.
A 6-5 freshman, Jerome was scoreless in four minutes off the bench in the first half. He played 10 minutes after intermission and scored eight points — all in the final 8:10. Jerome was 2 for 3 from beyond the arc. He also assisted Perrantes on a 3-pointer that put the Cavaliers up 62-51.
“He stepped up big, made some clutch shots, made some good moves, played some good defense,” Perrantes said. “We know he has it in him. He knows he has it in him, and just being able to go out and show it was huge for us tonight. Definitely a game-changer.”
Jerome’s first trey, off an assist from redshirt junior Devon Hall, pushed Virginia’s lead to 53-44. His second 3-pointer made it 57-49 with 5:36 remaining.
“I guess I was in the moment,” Jerome said. “[The defender’s] hand was down and he was playing far back, and I just let it fly.”
Jerome’s previous high in an ACC game was five points, and he’d logged more than 10 minutes only once in conference play before Tuesday night. But he’s impressed in practice, and he’s “always ready,” Bennett said.
“That young man stays after [practice] and works — works on his shot and works on his game — and he hasn’t lost heart.”
Jerome said: “It’s all about your [mindset] and your confidence level. Right now, come hell or high water, whatever the outcome is I just want to be extremely confident, but be smart too, of course. I just feel like that’s what I did tonight.”
“Different guys at different times has been a key for us in our victories,” Bennett said.
Hall, who stands 6-5, matched his career high with nine rebounds and added 11 points. He was unaware of his stats until “his aunt texted me and said, “You were one rebound short [of a double-double],’ ” Hall said, smiling.
“Our coaches preach for us to come back and rebound, so I just try to do it to the best of my ability.”
Shayok, an offensive force since moving in the starting lineup this season, scored 10 points, and Wilkins, like Hall, nearly recorded a double-double.
The 6-7 Wilkins finished with 13 points and nine rebounds. Nine of his points came at the line, where he went 9 for 10.
“Never in my life have I taken 10 free throws [in a game],” Wilkins said, laughing. “I was thinking about that in the locker room. And I’ve never made 9 of the 10 in my life before, either, so I’ll take both of those.”
Overall, the Cavaliers shot 46.3 percent from the floor — 47.4 percent from 3-point range — and 85.7 percent from the line. Equally important was their defense.
The 54 points were a season low for Notre Dame, which Bennett called “an offensive juggernaut.” The Irish came in averaging 81.2 points per game. Against Virginia’s trademark Pack-Line defense, they shot 41.7 percent from the floor and made only 3 of 18 attempts from long range.
Senior forward V.J. Beachem, coming off a 30-point effort in a one-sided win over Syracuse, had only three points against Virginia. He was 0 for 5 from beyond the arc and 1 for 10 in all.
“V.J. had great looks,” Brey said. “He just missed `em.”
Notre Dame had only two fast-break points, and they came late in the game with the outcome decided. Moreover, the Cavaliers gave up only two offensive boards and outrebounded the Irish 38-22.
“Our guys knew we’d have to play really well because of how [the Irish have] been playing,” Bennett said. “They’re so good offensively, and they just looked a little flat tonight, and I think we were right.
“We kept them in front for the most part. I thought that was the storyline for us defensively: being back and not giving up a lot of dribble penetration.”
Asked about the Cavaliers’ success under Bennett against Notre Dame’s high-powered offense, Wilkins said, “We prepare for it in practice. The coaches do a great job of setting up the scouting report for us, and we just go out and execute.
“We try not to let them get out in transition. We play slow. We play our game. We’re not going to surprise anybody. We just do what we do.”