On an emotional day that said goodbye to senior players Devon Hall, Isaiah Wilkins, and Nigel Johnson, the No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers outlasted the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 62-57. Virginia led by as many as 11, but the Irish, back at (almost) full strength for just their second time in conference play, kept the pressure on the Hoos in the second half. The win put the Hoos (28-2) at 17-1 in ACC play, the first time that an ACC team has won 17 games in a season.
Hall led the Hoos with 17 points, and Ty Jerome added 13. Virginia shot 42% from the field and 45% from three for the game, outscoring the Irish 26 to 20 in the paint. Hall had six assists, and the Hoos assisted 15 of their 21 made baskets.
Bonzie Colson, back for just his second game this calendar year, was incredible for the Irish, scoring a team high 24 points on 9-for-20 shooting.
Johnson got the first point of the game, making one of two free throws. Colson hit a three to open scoring for the Irish. Martinas Geben increased their lead to 5-1 before outstanding ball movement found Jack Salt open for a left handed jumper in the lane.
Outstanding defense by Salt harassed Geben into a bad shot, and Ty Jerome stepped into a transition three to give the Hoos the lead back at 6-5. Pressure from Wilkins led to a miss by Colson, and Hall hit a runner in the lane. A Geben dunk made the score 8-7 Virginia at the 15:55 mark.
Virginia almost forced a turnover, but a double team led to over-rotation, leaving Colson open in the corner for an uncontested three that gave Notre Dame the lead back. That lead was short-lived, however, as a dunk by Wilkins and three by DeAndre Hunter put the Hoos back up by three.
Hunter blocked a shot by Colson, but the ball ricocheted back to him, giving him a second chance that he made over the defender. Hall hit a three down the other end to push Virginia’s lead to six with 12:47 left in the first half. A Diakite and-one put the Hoos up 21-12, but the Irish rattled off four straight to keep the pressure on.
The Hoos started hot on offense, going 7-for-11 from the field, but missed their next five straight. Two free throws by Hall broke a 4:26 scoring drought and put the Cavaliers up 23-16. Virginia built huge momentum with a sequence that included an offensive rebound by Salt, a three by Jerome, a steal by Jerome, and a follow dunk by Salt to put the Hoos up 11 with 5:48 to play.
That momentum was short-lived as Kyle Guy crumpled in a heap holding his knee in a no-contact situation. He was helped off the court by Coach Jason Williford and trainer Ethan Saliba with 5:36 to play. Thankfully, he returned to the huddle with 2:51 to play in the first half, walking on his own.
Five points from Colson and a fading, one-handed floater at the end of the shot clock by Jerome gave the Hoos an eight point lead. TJ Gibbs hit two free throws to close the Virginia lead to six, but Hunter finished through contact to push the lead back to eight with just over 1:30 left in the first half.
Colson tipped a missed three by Rex Pflueger and hit one of two free throws after a terrible blocking call on Wilkins, sending the teams into the half with Virginia leading 32-27.
Notre Dame shot 37.5% from the field and 30% from three for the first half, but Colson was the only one who could do anything for the Irish going 6-for-12 from the field and 3-for-5 from three for 18 points. The rest of the team combined for nine points on 3-for-12 shooting.
Hall led the way for the Hoos with nine points in the first half, with Jerome chipping in eight as Virginia shot 40.7% from the field and 40% from three. Virginia only turned the ball over twice in the first half, but Notre Dame only turned it over five times.
Matt Farrell opened up the second half scoring with a three on a failed switch defensively to make it a two point game. Wilkins posted up for a bucket, and on the next possession, drew a foul against Colson. He failed to capitalize on the call, and Geben made two free throws on the other end to close within two once again.
Jerome wasted no time, burying a three - his third of the game - to make it 37-32, but back to back buckets by Geben and Colson brought the Irish within one with 17:09 remaining. Notre Dame took the lead at 38-37 thanks to two more free throws from Geben, but two free throws from Diakite put Virginia back on top with 14:51 remaining.
Gibbs hit a spinning shot in the lane that hung on the rim before falling through, and a foul on Jerome led to another Farrell three that gave the Irish a four-point lead. Hunter answered with a jumper, Geben made one free throw, and Wilkins hit a long jumper to put the Hoos back within one at 44-43 with 12:06 left.
After a great defensive stand, Hall found Diakite streaking the lane for an emphatic dunk, giving Virginia the one point lead. Johnson made a smart pass to Diakite for an easy bucket, but Gibbs drew the Irish back even with a wide-open three from the corner.
Hall’s first bucket of the second half came with 8:17 to play as he drove the lane, giving Virginia a 51-47 lead. The two teams traded some free throws and Geben hit a shot up close, but Hall drove the lane again to put the Hoos up by five. Colson scored back to back buckets to bring the Irish within one with 3:27 to play, but Hall called his own number again to put Virginia up 57-54.
Two free throws by Wilkins and a three by Farrell pulled the Irish back within two with 2:30 to play. Hall missed a jumper, but Hunter came up with a huge rebound, forcing a jump ball that gave Virginia possession with the arrow. Hunter missed on the ensuing possession, but Farrell was unable to connect on a three. Another Virginia shot rimmed out, but the Hoos played incredible defense, forcing Notre Dame into a shot clock violation with 24 seconds left.
The Irish had to foul, sending Hunter to the line. He made both to give the Hoos a 61-57 lead. Gibbs missed a layup, and Hunter nabbed the rebound and was fouled again. He made one, and Notre Dame was unable to score again, giving Virginia a 62-57 win.
Next up, the Hoos will play as the one seed in the ACC tournament in Brooklyn. They’ll play their first game at noon on Thursday.