NEW YORK (AP) Since coming into the Atlantic Coast Conference four years ago, Notre Dame has more than held its own as a football school in a tough basketball league.
There was one box the Fighting Irish had not checked yet, and they did it at the best possible time.
Bonzie Colson had 21 points and 10 rebounds and No. 22 Notre Dame beat No. 21 Virginia for the first time since joining the ACC, topping the Cavaliers 71-58 on Thursday night to reach the tournament semifinals.
“It’s nice to get the first one when the stakes are really high,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “(The players) know everything we’ve accomplished in four years, that’s the one thing we didn’t have an answer for. They wanted to beat this program. This program has kind of had our number.”
The third-seeded Fighting Irish (24-8) will face second-seeded and No. 16 Florida State on Friday in the late semifinal at Barclays Center. North Carolina-Duke will be both the main event and opening act.
The Fighting Irish were 0-5 against the Cavaliers (22-10) since entering the ACC, never breaking 66 points in the process. For once, Notre Dame’s offense ran smoothly against Virginia’s active defense and the Irish even managed to push the pace some against the methodical Cavaliers.
“I think our smaller lineup (with the 6-foot-5 Colson at center) … really spreads the floor,” Brey said. “And Matt Farrell was fabulous with his decisions off the ball screen, dragging their help. Bonzie was slipping into space. We were hitting and making the extra pass. We’re really hard to deal with when we can get into that rhythm.”
Notre Dame started both halves strong and used an 11-0 run, highlighted by a steal and reverse slam by Rex Pflueger, to build a 17-point lead five minutes into the second half.
“I think we’re really hungry and motivated to play these guys,” Colson said. “It’s been a tough route playing them in the past, so I think we wanted it more. We got off to a great start. That’s something Coach Brey has been emphasizing, great starts on offense.”
The Cavaliers never made a serious push back.
“We were behind in the play,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “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.”
Devon Hall and Darius Thompson led Virginia with 12 points each.
Colson had his ACC-best 19th double-double for the Irish. They have won seven of eight.
Virginia: The Cavaliers are not going to win many games in which their opponent shoots over 45 percent. Notre Dame shot 52.2. Virginia is not built to trade baskets, especially if leading scorer London Perrantes goes 1 for 9 from the field as he did against the Irish.
“Obviously, Notre Dame played some good defense tonight. But, yeah, missed some chippies, some layups. I had a couple of open 3s that I missed,” Perrantes said.
The Cavaliers will go as far as their defense takes them in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s not going to change for us,” Bennett said. “It’s just doing it a little bit better and taking care of the ball.”
Notre Dame: The Irish got efficient contributions from up and down the starting lineup. Matt Farrell scored 14 points and VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia each added 12. And the Irish did it without much help from the 3-pointer. They shot 65.5 percent from 2-point range and 29.4 from 3.
Virginia: The Cavaliers will be making their fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, probably as about a fifth or sixth seed.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish split two games with Florida State during the regular season.
“They come at you in waves, physically and athletically,” Brey said.