NEW YORK — Entering the game feeling as confident as they have all season and riding a four-game win streak, the Virginia Cavaliers’ worst nightmare became a painful reality Thursday night in the ACC tournament at Barclays Center.
The nightmare did not come in the form of third-seeded Notre Dame, whom they had beaten 10 of the past 11 meetings. Instead, Virginia’s demon was cold shooting — the Cavaliers shot just 38.6 percent and were bounced from the tournament in a 71-58 loss.
Sixth-seeded Virginia’s shooting woes were an issue at least four times earlier in the season and came to the fore again against the Irish (24-8). For the first time since 2013, Virginia (22-10) will not play in the ACC tournament semifinals.
“We were outplayed today,” Cavaliers Coach Tony Bennett said. “We were behind in the play. They really were moving the ball well. They’re hard to guard. They played well, and we didn’t have one of our better games. We have to learn from it, pick up and move on.”
The Fighting Irish advance to play No. 2 seed Florida State in Friday’s semifinal. No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 5 seed Duke face off in the other semifinal matchup.
A night after senior point guard London Perrantes and freshmen guards Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy had combined to score 46 points against Pittsburgh, the three guards connected on just 4 of 24 attempts and totaled 13 points.
Junior guards Devon Hall and Darius Thompson picked up as much of the slack as they could, leading four Virginia players in double figures with 12 points each. Jerome and guard Marial Shayok added 10 apiece.
Virginia went into intermission down only 32-26, but Notre Dame opened the second half with a 15-0 run. A 21-point deficit was far too much for Virginia and its sluggish offense to overcome, even on a night when it wasn’t shooting under 40 percent.
Virginia finally broke the drought with two free throws from Marial Shayok. By that point, there was little the Cavaliers could do against a Fighting Irish squad that hovered around 50 percent shooting all night.
Forward Bonzie Colson led all players with 21 points, and guard Matt Farrell added 14.
Notre Dame shot 52 percent from the floor against the team whose pack-line defense had bewildered the Fighting Irish in five straight matchups since they joined the ACC.
By the time Bennett shook hands with Irish counterpart Mike Brey at the buzzer, Virginia could be reasonably questioning its confidence as it awaits its NCAA tournament seeding and Notre Dame could feel the relief of finally beating a team it had long struggled against.
“They wanted to beat this program,” Brey said of his team. “This program has kind of had our number. So it’s great to get the first one when you’re advancing in a tournament.”
After a 67-42 win against Pittsburgh in Charlottesville on March 4 in which Virginia out-rebounded and outshot the Panthers with ease, Perrantes suggested that the Cavaliers were peaking at just the right time. “No one wants to play us right now,” he said last week.
He struck a different tone in the early hours of Friday morning.
“Obviously, we’re not going to make every shot, but I think giving up some easy looks kind of takes the air out of the house, and knowing that we’re not supposed to or we shouldn’t be giving up easy looks kind of messes with our head,” Perrantes said. “Obviously, Kyle and even me had a little slump today shooting the ball. It all starts with our defense, and we weren’t right from the jump, and that kind of dug us a hole.”