Balanced performance lifts Irish over Virginia ahead of Duke clash
Luke Thompson | Monday, January 31, 2022
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team fought off a series of runs from the Virginia Cavaliers to remain undefeated at home this season. They moved to 9-0 at Purcell Pavilion. Overall, the Irish improved to 14-6 on the year and 7-2 in the ACC. Their fourth straight win moved them into a tie for second in the ACC with Duke. This leads to their monumental matchup with the ninth-ranked Blue Devils on Monday.
Veteran leadership takes control
The Irish came into the game with a troubled history against the Cavaliers but were able to maintain control of the game throughout. Despite the small margin of victory, the Irish led for over 35 minutes of game time. Notre Dame received solid contributions across the board in its commanding performance, with four of the Irish’ five starters at or above 14 points on the night.
Continuing his hot streak, senior forward Nate Laszewski was once again among the Irish’s top performers. He shot an efficient 3-5 beyond the arc and notched 16 points. Senior guard Dane Goodwin matched Laszewski as the team’s high scorer. He was similarly deadly from deep, draining four of six shots he put up from distance. The two senior marksmen kept the Irish offense running as they weathered Virginia’s stifling defensive attack.
Meanwhile, freshman phenom Blake Wesley provided the early spark for the Irish to get in front. He scored the team’s first eight points as part of his 14-point, 7-assist night. Matching up against a larger Cavalier frontcourt, graduate student center Paul Atkinson provided much-needed support down low. He recorded another 14 points and nine rebounds for the Irish.
Pesky Cavaliers don’t go away
Despite the variety of strong Irish performances, the Cavaliers were able to keep the game within reach throughout the contest. This included the final seconds as the Irish began to show cracks against the Cavaliers’ full-court press defense. With only eight seconds remaining, senior guard Kihei Clark made a layup to cut the Irish lead to just two. However, the Irish never fell behind as the Cavaliers made their last-ditch effort. Senior guard Prentiss Hubb sealed the game with two free throws in the final seconds.
After falling behind as many as 15 points midway through the second half, the Cavaliers continually battled back. However, the Irish pushed back, keeping Virginia at bay. A large part of why the Cavaliers were able to stay within range of the Irish was the performance of Jayden Gardner. The senior guard scored 22 points and secured 10 rebounds. Clark also contributed to the Cavalier’s persistence, adding 12 points and seven assists.
Reflecting on how these performances were not enough to get the Cavaliers the win, Virginia Coach Tony Bennett stressed the difficulty with matching up with Notre Dame’s three-point shooting and versatility on offense, saying these factors make the Irish “hard to guard” as a team. But Bennett was able to take consolation that his team was only a few plays away from leaving Purcell Pavilion with their objective. One such play was Dane Goodwin’s wild save on a full-court pass in the game’s closing minute that helped the Irish close it out.
Duke up next
Coach Mike Brey relished in the fact that his team had come away with a win in yet another closely contested matchup, expressing pride that the Irish “have played more hard games” than any other team in the nation. His players echoed this sentiment about their team’s battle-tested character. Hubb remarked that he has “ice in [his] veins” regarding decisive free throws down the stretch.
The Irish have come out on top of another tight game, but have expressed wanting to be careful about letting any excitement get in the way of their preparation for their coming games. A four-game winning streak and 10 wins in 11 games can create an unnecessary distraction. Paul Atkinson said that ideally when preparing for their next opponent the team should “have no recollection of the last game.”
The next game should be an easy one for the Irish to maintain focus on. The Irish finish up their three-game home stretch against one of the nation’s top teams. On Monday night, the Irish take on Duke in a game that will launch the winner into a tie for first place in the ACC. Notre Dame has exorcised so many of the program’s demons with wins over teams like North Carolina State, Louisville and Virginia. Now, the Irish will certainly be looking to win this high-profile matchup. A victory could catapult them into the ACC title and NCAA Tournament bid conversation. The game is also legendary Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last trip to Notre Dame, adding another emotional element to an already extremely important contest.
The game against the Blue Devils will tip off at 7 p.m. on Monday night at the Purcell Pavilion and will be broadcasted on ESPN.