Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Pitt snaps losing streak by beating Notre Dame in home finale
Pitt needed a victory against Notre Dame on Saturday at Petersen Events Center, not just because it was the final home game for three seniors.
The Panthers needed a big win so they wouldn’t be the biggest losers.
A loss would have secured back-to-back 20-loss seasons for the first time in Pitt basketball history – given that they didn’t go on a national championship run. That would have been a dubious distinction (and something Scott Barnes surely would leave off his resume).
And Pitt got a hold-your-breath-until-the-buzzer victory, beating the Irish, 56-53, to send its seniors out in style.
1. Celebrating seniors: Pitt coach Jeff Capel pulled a class move by starting his three seniors for their finale at Petersen Events Center.
That allowed Sidy N’Dir, Joe Mascaro and Jared Wilson-Frame to be introduced with the starting lineup, which included freshman guard Xavier Johnson and sophomore center Kene Chukwuka.
That had to be a thrill for Mascaro, a 5-foot-10 walk-on guard from Bethel Park, to make his first career start for Pitt. N’Dir, a graduate transfer from New Mexico State, had started four games this season. Wilson-Frame, a junior-college transfer, made his 15th start of the season and the 38th of his career.
It was fun while it lasted, which was for all of 15 seconds.
Before Pitt even had an offensive possession, Capel substituted for Mascaro and N’Dir by sending freshmen Trey McGowens and Au’Diese Toney into the game.
2. No excuses: Notre Dame was the perfect opponent for a Pitt team reeling from 13 consecutive losses, as the Fighting Irish have been devastated by injuries this season.
Rex Pflueger led the Irish in assists and steals before tearing his ACL against Purdue in mid-December. Robby Carmody, the freshman guard from Mars, started the first two games of the season but has been out since late December with a torn labrum.
D.J. Harvey, who started the first 29 games, was out with a pulled hamstring. And reserve guard Nikola Djogo has a torn labrum.
Down to eight players (one a walk-on who played only one minute), Notre Dame had lost six straight and 12 of their past 14 games and was a 2.5-point underdog.
Yet the Irish led by 12 at the seven-minute mark of the first half.
3. Clutch Trey: After scoring in double digits nine times in an 11-game span, capped by his 30-point performance against Florida State, Trey McGowens had been in a slump.
McGowens had scored in single digits 10 times in 13 games since then, including the previous four games.
So he picked the perfect time for a breakthrough game, as his 3-pointer cut Pitt’s deficit to 24-17 and sparked the Panthers. Malik Ellison followed with a double-clutch shot to draw a foul but missed the free throw that would have made it a three-point play.
Then Trey brought the Pete to life.
McGowens threw down a thunderous tomahawk dunk over Notre Dame’s John Mooney, a 6-foot-9 junior forward and drew a foul. This time, Pitt got the three-point play.
McGowens wasn’t finished, either.
The 6-3 guard hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 26-25 at halftime, then started the second half by scoring a layup to give Pitt a 27-26 lead.
And McGowens hit double digits in the process.
4. Clutch Trey II: Jared Wilson-Frame had the unfortunate timing to play at Pitt amid the two longest losing streaks in school history.
But he should also be remembered for being the one, if not only 3-point threat on the Panthers this season.
Wilson-Frame entered the game ranking second in the ACC in 3-point field goals per game (2.86) and fifth in 3-point percentage (39.0), and holds the school record for 3s per game at 2.57.
So it should come as no surprise that Wilson-Frame’s first basket of the game was a 3-pointer in front of the Oakland Zoo, or that he beat the shot-clock buzzer with a trey.
Wilson-Frame was on the right wing in the second half when he got the pass. His momentum pulled him toward the Pitt bench, but he launched a high-arcing shot that banked off the glass at the buzzer to give Pitt a 38-35 lead at 13:54.
It was a perfect Senior Day shot.
5. Hold your breath: Just when it looked like Pitt was about to pull away, Nate Laszewski had other ideas.
The 6-10 freshman forward sank three 3s in the final 4:06 and pulled the Irish to within one, 54-53, by making two free throws with 1:14 remaining.
Pitt did its best to give the game away on offense and allowed Notre Dame to get two critical offensive rebounds in the final minute before fouling junior guard T.J. Gibbs at 32.8 seconds.
An 81.5 percent career foul shooter, Gibbs is the younger brother of former Pitt great Ashton Gibbs – who ranks third in school history by 87.2 percent on free throws and was sitting courtside.
But T.J. Gibbs played the entire game without a rest and missed the front end of a one-and-one. It was a bad break for the Irish and good fortune for the Panthers, who got two free throws in the final minute from Xavier Johnson to clinch the victory.
And snap their losing streak.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .