SOUTH BEND, Ind. — If there are any skeptics remaining, the Virginia men’s basketball team is silencing them at a rapid rate.
The Cavaliers were on the road Saturday to play the highest-ranked team they have faced this season and rallied for a 62-56 victory over No. 13 Notre Dame.
“We saw where a lot of people were predicting that this team was going to beat us,” UVa guard Malcolm Brogdon said. “A lot of people thought we were going to go down in this game.”
“That doesn’t scare us. That doesn’t make us nervous. That just makes us want to get into the game quicker.”
Third-ranked Virginia (15-0, 3-0 ACC) certainly got off to a fast start, jumping to a 16-6 lead in the first eight minutes, but it was a struggle for much of the afternoon.
The Irish (15-2, 3-1) responded with a 13-0 run and took a 27-24 lead to the locker room at halftime. Pat Connaughton’s 3-pointer with 17:05 left gave Notre Dame its biggest lead of the game at 34-26.
Connaughton, a pitcher for the Notre Dame baseball team and a fourth-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles last summer, scored the first 10 points of the second half for the Irish and finished with a game-high 21.
Notre Dame got 12 points apiece from Demetrius Jackson and reserve V.J. Beachem, but fifth-year senior Jerian Grant, averaging a team-high 17.3 points for the season, finished with a season-low six.
Brogdon drew the defensive assignment on Grant, who had one field goal in the first 35 minutes. It was the first time Brogdon had seen Grant, who was suspended for the second semester in 2013-14.
“I’ve watched him so many times [on television] that I had a pretty good idea what I was going up against,” said Brogdon, who asks to guard the opposition’s most dangerous offensive player.
Virginia held Notre Dame to 33.9-percent shooting from the field, but that was nothing out of the ordinary, given the Cavaliers’ ranking as the No. 2 team in Division I in field-goal percentage defense (33.7).
Coach Tony Bennett was more concerned about an offense that went more than seven minutes without a field goal in the first half.
“I said at halftime, ‘You guys look so finessed; you’ve got to get back to running your offense with purpose, with screens and cuts, rather than standing around,” Bennett said.
“We really got away from making Notre Dame work. In the second half, that’s what I liked, that [the Cavaliers] adjusted.”
The one constant offensively was the Cavaliers’ lone senior, Darion Atkins, who is best known for his post defense, but scored a team-high 14 points and eight rebounds.
“Darion was so steady tonight and so continuous on offense and defense,” Brogdon said. “It was like nothing shook him. It didn’t matter who guarded him; it didn’t matter who he was guarding.
“This team prides itself on having a chip on our shoulder and Darion has a chip of his own on his shoulder.”
Virginia shot 49 percent as a team, thanks to six field goals in its last nine attempts, the first a short jumper by Atkins to force a 45-45 tie.
The Cavaliers trailed one more time, following a Connaughton jumper that made it 51-50 with 4:53 left. Brogdon and Justin Anderson then hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions.
It was the start of a 9-0 run that put the Cavaliers ahead 62-53 before Jackson hit a 3-pointer with two seconds left.
Anderson and Brogdon each hit a pair of free throws in the final 21 seconds and the Cavaliers finished 7-of-8 from the line. The Irish were 6-of-12.
“It was two teams throwing big punches,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “Credit Virginia. They made some big shots when they had to.”
It was Virginia’s eighth straight victory over the Irish since Notre Dame defeated a UVa team that was 23-0 in 1981.
“They played like a team that’s won a championship when they had to down the stretch,” said Brey, alluding to the Cavaliers’ ACC title in 2014.
“I thought, when we started the second half, that maybe we could get some breathing room, but they’re too good for that.”
Atkins 7-11 0-0 14, Gill 2-5 0-0 4, Anderson 3-6 3-4 11, Brogdon 4-8 4-4 13, Perrantes 2-8 0-0 5, Shayok 3-5 0-0 7, Tobey 4-7 0-0 8, Nolte 0-0 0-0 0, Wilkins 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-51 7-8 62.
NOTRE DAME (15-2)
Auguste 2-7 0-2 4, Jackson 4-10 1-2 12, Grant 2-8 2-3 6, Connaughton 8-15 1-1 21, Vasturia 0-5 0-0 0, Torres 0-1 0-0 0, Beachem 4-9 1-2 12, Burgett 0-1 0-0 0, Geben 0-3 1-2 1. Totals 20-59 6-12 56.
Halftime–Notre Dame 27-24. 3-Point Goals–Virginia 5-11 (Anderson 2-4, Shayok 1-2, Brogdon 1-2, Perrantes 1-3), Notre Dame 10-24 (Connaughton 4-9, Beachem 3-6, Jackson 3-6, Grant 0-1, Vasturia 0-2). Fouled Out–None. Rebounds–Virginia 34 (Atkins 8), Notre Dame 35 (Connaughton 8). Assists–Virginia 9 (Brogdon 4), Notre Dame 10 (Grant 6). Total Fouls–Virginia 12, Notre Dame 14. A–9,149.