It was just one play in a 40-minute game. It changed everything.
Notre Dame trailed Virginia 48-43, and Zach Auguste of the Fighting Irish went up for a dunk. Justin Anderson of No. 14 Virginia went up with him, but from behind he denied the attempt, blocking the ball against the backboard to teammate Anthony Gill.
Seconds later, Gill took a pass inside and dunked with two hands for the Cavaliers, and what had been a close game was about to turn dramatically, a 30-5 run rescuing Virginia from a close contest on its way to another ACC blowout victory, 70-49.
“That’s how fragile a game can be because for about 30 minutes, I really liked what we were doing,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “Then we get the dunk blocked and they dunked on the other end and the whole ceiling caved in.”
Akil Mitchell and Gill scored 15 points each and the Cavaliers (23-5, 14-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) rolled for the win that kept them alone atop the league standings and extended their winning streak to 11 games.
Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett has seen Anderson do this before, and it never gets old.
“He’s such an `X’ factor guy that way,” Bennett said. “He comes out of nowhere.”
And when Anderson lights a fire, Virginia usually fans it. Gill’s dunk came in the midst of 25 consecutive points.
“We definitely feed off him, but the difference is we know what he can and can’t do,” Malcolm Brogdon said of Anderson. “We can sort of sense when he’s about to do something amazing, something acrobatic.”
Anderson’s block brought a sellout crowd out of a quiet air of concern into raucous celebration.
Pat Connaughton led the Fighting Irish (14-14, 5-10) with 11 points, but Notre Dame went nearly 9 minutes without a point as Virginia turned a 41-38 deficit into a 68-43 lead. Demetrius Jackson’s layup broke the spell with just 2:32 left.
“They’ve had games like this where it looks like they’re on the ropes and then they have an explosion. Today was a nuclear explosion,” Brey said.
Virginia used a 20-1 run at Georgia Tech to blow open a close game on Feb. 8.
The Fighting Irish arrived looking to give Brey his 300th victory with the Fighting Irish, and after a slow start, Notre Dame closed the first half on a 15-4 run to pull even at 30. The Irish continued to play well early in the second half, taking the 41-38 lead, but then fell apart.
With Mitchell and Gill attacking inside with success, Virginia scored five points to go ahead 43-41. After Garrick Sherman’s inside basket tied it at 43 with 11:25 to go, it was all Cavaliers.
Joe Harris made a 3-pointer, Gill scored inside and Anderson, who has a knack for huge defensive plays, denied Auguste as he tried to score on a putback dunk. The Cavaliers quickly headed the other way to a dunk for Gill, and the run was on.