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Men’s Basketball

Panther pitfall: Notre Dame falls on road despite another late rally

| Sunday, February 1, 2015

They’ve overcome double-digit deficits with relative ease all season, comebacks so commonplace that Irish head coach Mike Brey has joked the Irish have teams “right where they want them” when losing by 10.

Irish sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson rises up for a jump shot during Notre Dame’s 77-73 win over Duke on Wednesday.Jodi Lo | The Observer

Irish sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson rises up for a jump shot during Notre Dame’s 77-73 win over Duke on Wednesday.

So trailing by eight points with 3:05 remaining against Pittsburgh on Saturday, it was only fitting No. 8 Notre Dame (20-3, 8-2 ACC) came back once again and took a one-point lead with 31 seconds to play. But the Panthers (14-8, 4-5) closed down the stretch and earned a 76-72 victory over the Irish on Saturday afternoon at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh.

“I’m proud of our group. It looked bad, and we fought through out of another hole to give ourselves a chance to win,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said in his post-game radio interview. “But I don’t think our defense was good enough today, nor did we really deserve to win. If we would have won today, that would have been a theft.”

Three days removed from a momentous win over No. 4 Duke, Notre Dame rode its efficient offense into Pittsburgh but faced a hot-shooting Panthers club. Pittsburgh shot 58.5 percent from the floor and assisted on 24 of its 31 field goals, appearing nothing like the team that lost to lowly Virginia Tech on Tuesday.

“I think the major story of this game is how well Pitt played on both ends of the floor,” Brey said to reporters afterward. “They were in a great rhythm offensively and were very good defensively at key times.”

Down 71-63 with 3:05 remaining, Irish senior guard Jerian Grant had scored just five points, and Notre Dame was mired in its biggest hole of the afternoon. Then Grant reeled off nine straight points and gave the Irish the lead with 31 seconds left.

With the Irish leading by one, Panthers junior guard James Robinson drove into the lane and converted on a difficult spinning floater to vault Pittsburgh ahead 73-72 with 12 seconds left.

“The key defensive possession was, you get the stop when Robinson hits the runner, and you win the game,” Brey said.

Grant then motored up-court and kicked out to Irish sophomore guard Steve Vasturia for an open 3-pointer in the right corner — the same location from which Vasturia sunk a crucial triple during the waning seconds of the win over the Blue Devils. This time, Vasturia’s shot didn’t fall, and the Irish lost.

“It was one of those games where I think we deserved to lose by 15, and what I love about our group is that we took the lead and took that shot down in the corner to steal another one,” Brey said.

Pittsburgh set season highs for made field goals, field-goal percentage, assists and points in an ACC game. The Panthers shot 68.2 percent in the second half. Pittsburgh sophomore forward Jamel Artis (20 points) led four Panthers in double figures.

“I think our defense hurt us today; we could never get enough stops to really win the game,” Brey said. “We were scoring the whole time and this group has been able to get stops, especially in the last seven or eight minutes, to usually escape. We got a couple of stops but could never get enough to really believe, and then they got really confident offensively.”

Brey said he was curious to see how his team would respond early Saturday afternoon after the thrilling win Wednesday.

“We would have every reason to be a little flat, a little under-energized, given what we had to do against NC State [in an overtime win Jan. 25] and tonight,” Brey said Wednesday night after the win over Duke. “If you get the one in Pittsburgh, I’ll start to refer to you as having special qualities. I’m serious. Human nature would say you’re not gonna be very good.”

The Irish weren’t, at least on the defensive end.

“Not there yet. Not there yet. No,” Brey said when asked about those special qualities. “Got a chance to keep working on it. ‘In search of being special’ is what I said as soon as we got in the locker room.”

Irish sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson paced Notre Dame with 15 points, while Grant, junior forward Zach Auguste (12) and Vasturia (12) also reached double figures.

Notre Dame welcomes Boston College to Purcell Pavilion on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

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About Mike Monaco

Senior Sports Writer Mike Monaco is a senior majoring in Film, Television and Theatre with a minor in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy as well as Business Economics. The O’Neill Hall native hails from the Boston area and is an aspiring play-by-play broadcaster.

Contact Mike