CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Kihei Clark’s fifth season at Virginia has been one of breaking numerous records, and a few opponents’ hearts, too.
Clark scored 15 points, including a pair of critical free throws with 22.6 seconds left, and added Virginia’s career assist record to his resume in the No. 7 Cavaliers’ 57-55 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday.
After the Fighting Irish closed to 55-54, Clark converted both ends of a one-and-one. Trey Wertz made the front end of a one-and-one with 3.9 seconds left for the Fighting Irish, but missed the second after a timeout. The ball was tipped out to Dane Goodwin for a potential game-winning 3-pointer, but his wide-open shot bounced off the rim.
“We couldn’t ask for a better look,” said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, who is stepping down after this season. Then he, like several other coaches have this season, bid Clark a hopeful farewell.
“I really don’t want to see him anymore,” Brey said. “He is the ultimate winner, man. I said, you are a big-time winner, man,”
Clark, who broke John Crotty’s school assist record when he fed Jayden Garden for a short jumper with 17:52 left, downplayed the mark, just the latest he’s established this season.
“I think being a point guard, I think this is something to do with, you know, being in that position, but it’s a team award,” Clark said, “... the guys make a lot of shots and I give the credit to them.”
Armaan Franklin added 12 points and Reece Beekman had 11 for Virginia (21-4, 13-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), who assured themselves at least a share of first place in the conference pending a game between Virginia Tech and co-leader Pittsburgh later Saturday.
Virginia shot just 36.5% (19-52), but made Notre Dame the 40th consecutive ACC school to fail to score 70 points at John Paul Jones Arena.
Nate Laszewski led Notre Dame (10-17, 2-14) with 18 points and Goodwin had 12, including a pair of 3-pointers. The Fighting Irish are now 0-10 away from home this season.
Notre Dame scored the first six points after halftime to take a 31-29 lead. Jayden Gardner later hit a short jumper and Reece Beekman followed with a 3-pointer, sparking a 13-5 run to put the Cavaliers ahead 53-45. The Irish closed to within three twice in the closing minutes.
The Cavaliers used a 10-2 run over a span of 8 1/2 minutes to open a 27-18 lead, but the Irish outscored them 7-2 to finish the half trailing 29-25.
A TRIBUTE, WITH WHISKEY
Virginia coach Tony Bennett said he wanted to say something to honor Brey’s 23 years at Notre Dame on the PA system, but the coach declined. Instead, the school gave him a bottle of Irish whiskey.
“I’m going to try it tonight, I can tell you that,” Brey said.
Bennett and Brey had a lengthy chat before the game.
“I really appreciate Coach Brey and all he’s done for the game and whatever his future holds, he’s a good man,” Bennett said. “And so I want to acknowledge that because it’s hard to last in this game.”
Note Dame: The Irish arrived averaging just 8.8 turnovers but had six by halftime and came precariously close to numerous shot clock violations, which resulted in desperation shots. The Cavaliers did force a shot clock violation after halftime, their 17th at home this season.
Virginia: Clark’s third of four assists was his 684th, moving him past Crotty (1988-91), who attended the game. He is the program’s career leader in wins, ACC wins, minutes and games — and also now the leader in starts with his 133rd, passing London Perrantes (2014-17).
Notre Dame: At home against North Carolina on Wednesday night.
Virginia: At Boston College on Wednesday night.