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Brey's technical seems to turn tide for Notre Dame vs. Pitt

| Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, 10:09 p.m.
Notre Dame's Jerian Grant makes a second-half shot over Pitt's Trey Zeigler on Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, at Petersen Events Center. (Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review)

How does a team follow its worst game of the season with one of its worst halves of any season, and then find itself spreading the floor and milking the clock to protect a big win on the road?

How does a team miss 17 of its first 18 shots, fall behind by 16 points and then come back to win handily?

For Notre Dame, it was fundamental: Defense and a 40-25 rebounding edge fueled the comeback.

“For our group to withstand that start ...,” Irish coach Mike Brey said after his team came back to beat Pitt, 51-42, at the Petersen Events Center. “And I'm just so thrilled with how we guarded and rebounded. To outrebound them by 15 and keep them off the offensive boards, because they do that so well.”

On Feb. 9, Notre Dame outlasted Louisville in five overtimes, the longest Big East regular-season game ever. Four days later, the Fighting Irish beat DePaul in one overtime. And in the game after that, on Saturday, Notre Dame trailed Providence by 24 points before losing by 17. Brey likened his squad to a junior varsity outfit. Maybe it was an aberration for a team that had lost just twice in its previous seven games, or fatigue.

But for most of the first half against Pitt on Monday, Notre Dame was even worse.

At the start, the Irish managed just one basket in nearly 13 minutes. They missed 17 shots. They sprinkled in six turnovers and trailed, 19-3.

“Yesterday we came down here, and we really worked on our offense,” Brey said. “And you can really tell the teacher that I am. We got off to a great start offensively. They really digested that.”

Then everything changed. Everything flipped. Brey, raging at his players and the officials, drew a technical foul (good for Pitt's 19th point), and the teams traded places. Notre Dame outscored Pitt, 16-3, muzzling the Oakland Zoo and making it a game. The Panthers' halftime lead was only 22-19.

“Guys just said, ‘Keep playing defense,' ” guard Jerian Grant said. “They only had 19 points. We were getting the looks; we just had to keep playing defense.”

The technical seemed to be a turning point. Pitt guard Tray Woodall thought he noticed change in the way fouls were called. Whatever the effect, it was good for Notre Dame and bad for Pitt.

“I don't know how premeditated (it was),” Brey said. “I was just so frustrated. I thought on some of our drives we were getting bumped a little bit. He probably could have thrown me out.

“But sometimes that does change the vibe.”

Bob Cohn is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BCohn_Trib.

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