Pitt struggles continue in loss to Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Four days after its most unexpected loss in years, Pitt did something that is becoming all too familiar.
The No. 22 Panthers fell to Notre Dame for the fourth time in 22 months, losing, 72-59, on Tuesday night at Purcell Pavilion in the Big East opener for both teams.
It's the first time Pitt has lost four games in a row to the same team under coach Jamie Dixon.
"They were playing harder than us and wanted it more," senior forward Nasir Robinson said. "It's as simple as that."
Injured junior point guard Tray Woodall returned to action, but it wasn't enough. Notre Dame (9-5) won its 28th consecutive home game, the fourth-longest streak in the nation, and continued its mastery over Pitt.
Pitt (11-3), fresh off a stinging, home loss to Wagner on Friday, led, 30-29, early in the second half. But Notre Dame, which went 2 for 11 from 3-point range in the first half, shot 72 percent in the second half (18 for 25) and used a 13-5 run midway through the half to take a 53-42 lead on Jerian Grant's 3-pointer with 8:25 left.
Pitt never got any closer than nine points the rest of the way.
"I thought we had a good thing going in the first half," Dixon said. "Second half, our defense just let us down."
Alex Dragicevich scored career-high 22 points, and Eric Atkins and Grant each added 15 for Notre Dame. Jack Cooley (6-foot-9, 248 pounds) had a game-high 14 rebounds, including five offensive boards.
Pitt, which leads the nation in rebounding margin, held a 39-30 edge, yet Notre Dame grabbed 10 offensive rebounds.
"We outrebound a team by nine, but it still seems we didn't get it done," Dixon said. "If you are going to let a team shoot 72 percent in the second half, you better get every one, and we obviously didn't do that."
Woodall, sidelined since Nov. 30 with abdominal and groin injuries, came off the bench and went scoreless in 18 minutes. He was 0 for 5 from the field, including 0 for 3 from 3-point range, with two assists and two turnovers.
"For me not to be out there, it was hurting," Woodall said. "I was able to go. Unfortunately, things didn't work out. I didn't play well."
Dixon said the goal was to limit Woodall to 20 minutes.
"He'll get better," Dixon said. "Obviously, he was not himself, playing out there."
Talib Zanna had 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Ashton Gibbs, who's 19 of 53 from the field in the past four games, scored 12 points with five assists and no turnovers.
Notre Dame didn't use its "burn" offense, the slow-paced, deliberate attack that had frustrated Pitt during the recent three-game run against the Panthers. After shooting 34.5 percent from the field in the first half, Notre Dame shot 18 for 25 in the second half and went 5 of 8 from behind the arc.
Pitt went 1 for 14 from 3-point range. The Panthers, who host Cincinnati on Sunday, are 5 for 40 from behind the arc in the past three games.
"We're just at a time right now where we are kind of struggling," Robinson said. "But we are going to get it together."
Dragicevich went 2 for 6 from the field in the first half, but he made 6 of 7 in the final 20 minutes.
"You can't look at the Pitt game differently than the IU (Indiana) game or the Dartmouth game," Dragicevich said. "Every game you get better as a team."
Pitt led, 26-25, at halftime, as the two teams combined for nearly as many personal fouls (18) as field goals (19) during a sloppy opening 20 minutes. Pitt went 10 of 29 from the field, and Notre Dame was 9 of 28, including a combined 2 for 16 from 3-point range.
Pitt took its biggest lead, 19-12, on Robinson's layup with 7:46 to play in the first half. But Notre Dame held Pitt scoreless for 4:14 during a 10-0 run to go ahead, 22-19, with four minutes left in the first half.