Notre Dame rallies past Pitt, 51-42
For the first nine minutes, Notre Dame couldn't buy a basket.
The rest of the game, Pitt couldn't buy a break.
No. 25 Notre Dame recovered from a 1-for-18 shooting start and 16-point first-half deficit for a 51-42 victory over No. 20 Pitt in a Big East game Monday night at Petersen Events Center.
The victory broke a fifth-place tie between the schools, which entered with identical records of 20-6 overall, 8-5 in league play. It marked Notre Dame's fifth consecutive victory over the Panthers, who have lost two consecutive after winning seven of eight games.
It was Pitt's lowest scoring total of the season and tied for the second-fewest points in the Jamie Dixon era. (The Panthers had 39 in a loss to Rutgers last season). Pitt also had only 10 assists on its 16 field goals, went 0 for 8 from 3-point range and was outrebounded by the largest margin of the season, 40-25, which Dixon called “unbelievable.”
“Our assists numbers and rebound numbers indicate how selfish we played — and it resulted in a loss,” said Pitt fifth-year senior point guard Tray Woodall, who finished with a team-high 11 points.
Pitt (20-7, 8-6) raced to a 16-point lead, as Notre Dame (21-6, 9-5) didn't make a field goal for the first 9:11 of the game when Tom Knight scored from the right block. The Panthers led, 19-3, with 7:08 remaining in the first half after Notre Dame coach Mike Brey drew a technical foul and Woodall sank two free throws. That proved to be the turning point.
“I definitely think so,” Woodall said. “There were like seven, eight straight fouls called after that. I'm not sure if the refs eased up or put on binoculars. I don't know, but after that the game just changed. We should have kept our composure and still played our same style, but I guess once you hear the whistle a couple times, you tend to back up a little bit.”
Notre Dame's rally started with back-to-back 3-pointers by swingman Pat Connaughton. That sparked a 16-2 run. The Fighting Irish made 17 of their final 29 shots (58.6 percent) and outscored Pitt, 48-23.
“The climate changed in the building. The vibe changed. Our body language changed,” said Brey, who called it a moral victory for the Irish to be trailing, 22-19, at halftime. “That set the tone for us offensively to have that confidence.”
What alarmed Dixon was that the Panthers were being beaten on the boards while winning by 16, as Notre Dame held a 15-12 edge with seven offensive rebounds. The Panthers finished with only six offensive rebounds, had no second-chance points and scored only 15 points off 15 turnovers.
“There were some things I didn't think we were doing well enough even with the margin that we had,” Dixon said. “We seemed to lose that aggressiveness as the game progressed.”
Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, giving the Irish a 29-28 lead on a 3-pointer with 14:41 left. Pitt regained the lead when James Robinson scored on a reverse to make it 32-31, but Eric Atkins answered to spark a 9-2 Notre Dame run. Irish senior forward Jack Cooley added 13 points and nine rebounds.
“We can't dwell on this game,” Woodall said. “We've just got to come back and find each other and find ourselves. We've got to look at ourselves and know that we gave this game away.”
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.
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