PITTSBURGH—Pitt held Notre Dame to three points with seven minutes left in the first half but the Irish roared back and pulled away late in the game for a 51-42 win at the Petersen Events Center Monday night.
“Obviously, we were disappointed in every facet of our performance,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. “We were playing hard but we seemed to lose that aggressiveness as the game progressed. Our offensive numbers had been terrific. This game put an end to that.”
Notre Dame manhandled Pitt on the boards 40-25 and it was the difference-maker in both Irish first half comeback and their win. The Irish pulled down 13 offensive rebounds while Pitt only had six. Notre Dame scored eight second chance points while Pitt had zero second chance points.
“To get outrebounded by 15 is an unbelievable number,” Dixon said. “We need to defend better for 40 minutes and get rebounding from every position.”
Both teams were cold from the floor to start the game but the Panthers (20-7, 8-6 Big East) found some offensive rhythm. After they took a 17-3 lead on a Tray Woodall jumper, Notre Dame (21-6, 9-6 Big East) head coach Mike Brey barked at the refs and was called for a technical.
Woodall hit both technical free throws to give Pitt a 19-3 lead, but Brey’s technical worked to his advantage as the Irish woke up and responded with a 16-3 run in the last seven minutes of the first half. Pitt held a slim 22-19 lead at the break.
“The climate changed in the building [after the technical]. Our body language changed, the vibe changed,” Brey said. “To withstand that start, we were thrilled to be down only three points at halftime.”
Pitt was out-rebounded 25-14 in the first half, which kept Notre Dame in the game. The Panthers only had 19 points with seven minutes left in the first half, so it only took a couple made baskets by the Irish and they were back in the game.
The two baskets were two three-pointers by Pat Connaughton which came 30 seconds apart and the floodgates were opened.
“When Pat [Connaughton] hit those shots, we felt like the game was tied,” Brey said. “I was thrilled the way we guarded and rebounded.”
Both teams battled back and forth to start the second half. James Robinson hit a layup to give the Panthers a 32-31 lead with less than 12 minutes left but it was their last lead of the game.
Pitt shot 0-8 from three-point range. It was only the third time under Jamie Dixon that the Panthers did not make a three-pointer and it happened twice this season, the last time was Dec. 31 against Cincinnati.
Notre Dame was 6-14 from three-point range. The Panthers shot 35 percent from the floor. Notre Dame shot 38 percent.
“We passed up some open shots, then drove and sent up a guarded or off-balance shot.
That made our offense inefficient,” Pitt said. “When we got an offensive rebound, we forced those shots up too.”
Tray Woodall was the only Panther in double figures with 11 points.
“It was just a bad game for us. We played selfish. The assist numbers and rebounding numbers indicate how selfish we played. We gave this game away,” Woodall said. “No three’s and no second chance points. That is uncharacteristic for us.”
Three Irish scored in double figures led by Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant with 13 each. Eric Atkins added 10.
“We said keep playing defense. They only have 19 points,” Grant said. “We kept playing defense, getting stops and we pulled out the game.”
The Panthers are now on a two-game losing streak and have been badly out-rebounded in both losses. They return to action Sunday afternoon at St. John’s.
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