CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – Virginia has known for a while it had the top seed in the ACC Tournament locked up.
Now that the tournament is the top-ranked Cavaliers’ next stop, Isaiah Wilkins thinks it’s time to knuckle down even more.
“I think we have to have like a full reset,” the senior forward said Saturday after celebrating his final home game at John Paul Jones Arena with a 62-57 victory against Notre Dame. “It’s a chapter, and it closed. Now we just have to be extra prepared and play free.
“It’s just time to lock in and just go out there and you can’t be tight. You have to play free but you’ve got to give a little more.”
The Cavaliers had to do that against the Irish, who came in looking to enhance their NCAA Tournament resume, but Devon Hall scored 17 points in his final game at John Paul Jones Arena and the Cavaliers won their second nail-biter in three days.
Ty Jerome added 13 points for the Cavaliers (28-2, 17-1), who won their fifth in a row.
“I think it’s most important just not to overcomplicate things,” Jerome said. “Keep trying to get better and keep knocking.”
As the game ended, the Cavaliers gathered at midcourt, where coach Tony Bennett spoke privately with the team, then walked out of the huddle, clapping to thank the fans and, hand raised and fist pumping, headed for the locker room.
“That was for us to thank the crowd,” Bennett said of the gesture, which drew raucous cheers of celebration.
Bonzie Colson, playing in just his second game since missing 15 with a broken foot, had 24 points and 14 rebounds for the Irish (18-13, 8-10). Martinas Geben added 14 points and 10 rebounds, but only three other Notre Dame players scored. They shot 19 of 53 (35.8 percent).
Still, with Colson back in the lineup, coach Mike Brey was encouraged.
“In the midst of trying to put ourselves back together, I told them, ‘I think we’re back’ with Bonzie and playing like we were before the injury,” he said. “Even though we didn’t win, I really like what we got out of that today.”
Virginia led 55-54 with just over 3 minutes to play before Hall scored on a tough drive. After Notre Dame missed, Wilkins hit a pair of free throws, pushing the Cavaliers’ lead to five. A 3-pointer by Matt Farrell got Notre Dame within 59-57 with 2:24 to play.
Still trailing 59-57,the Irish had a chance to tie, or take the lead, in the final minute, but Colson couldn’t get free from Wilkins’ defense and, in his bid to pass the ball out, the Irish committed a 30-second shot clock violation with 23 seconds to play.
De’Andre Hunter, whose banked-in 3-pointer gave Virginia a stunning victory at Louisville on Thursday night , hit 3 of 4 free throws to finish it.
Notre Dame: The Irish are not a middle-of-the-pack ACC team with Colson healthy. He dominated the first half with 18 points and nine rebounds in 18 minutes. Conditioning may have been a factor for him in the second half as he picked up three personal fouls in the first 11 1/2 minutes. “He was cramping a little bit, but you know what, even before the injury, we’ve always had a little bit of a cramping issue in the skinniest calves in the history of a power forward,” Brey joked. “No one has skinnier calves. They’re non-existent.”
Virginia: The Cavaliers got a big scare when scoring leader Kyle Guy (14.3 ppg) went down hard and stayed down for a few minutes late in the first half. He was eventually helped off the court and into the tunnel favoring his left leg. He did not join the team for warmups after halftime, but joined the team huddle before play began to rousing cheers with a brace covering his left knee. He played some in the second half but had his second straight game without a 3-pointer after making one in 28 straight games. Bennett said afterward he had no update on Guy’s injury or status going forward.
The Irish will play Wednesday in the ACC Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The top-seeded Cavaliers open play in the ACC Tournament on Thursday.