Pitt comes from behind to hand Irish fifth straight loss
Greg Arbogast | Sunday, February 1, 2009
Fifty-six seconds into the second half Irish coach Mike Brey called a timeout to slowdown the Pittsburgh Panthers. It was too late.
The No. 3 Panthers had already erased the six-point Notre Dame halftime lead and they continued to roll, handing the Irish their fifth consecutive loss with a 93-80 win in Pittsburgh Saturday.
For the first 20 minutes Saturday, Notre Dame rebounded, defended and shot its way to a 45-39 lead at intermission. But that didn’t last long.
Receiving the ball to start the second half, the Irish turned it over on their first possession. Pittsburgh guard Levance Fields hit a three to cut Notre Dame’s lead in half. Then the Irish turned it over on their second possession. The Panthers’ Sam Young, who stole the ball, went coast-to-coast finishing strong while getting fouled for a bucket. He hit the free throw to tie the game at 45.
After a timeout, the Panthers scored the next two baskets, with forward DeJuan Blair capping the 10-0 run on a thunderous put-back slam of a Jermaine Dixon miss. Poof. Just like that, everything the Irish had worked for in the first half was suddenly rendered irrelevant.
Irish forward Luke Harangody ended the Pittsburgh run with an inside basket, but consecutive 3-pointers by Dixon and Fields put the Panthers up by eight with 15:40 remaining. Notre Dame would get no closer the rest of the way.
“What hurt us is how we started the second half,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey told the AP. “You can’t do that against a really good team in their building. It’s hard to overcome.”
The Panthers outscored the Irish 54-35 in the final 20 minutes of play.
Offensively for the Irish, the biggest difference in the second half was 3-point shooting. In the first half, Notre Dame regained its old shooting form, looking nothing like the team that shot a combined 16-53 (30.1 percent) from behind the arc against Connecticut and Marquette. The Irish attempted 22 threes, making 11 – putting them on a pace to break the school record of 19 3-pointers set earlier this season against South Dakota.
Then Notre Dame stopped shooting from deep.
In the second half, the Irish attempted only five 3-pointers, four of which were taken in the final 2:30 after the game was out of reach. Part of the change was due to the Panthers guarding more closely against the trey, but the Irish also seemed to stop playing for the three. Forward Luke Zeller, who torched Pittsburgh for six 3-pointers in the first half, played only six minutes in the second half.
On the other end of the floor, the big difference was rebounding. Although Pittsburgh outrebounded Notre Dame 25-16 in the first half, the Irish contained the damage, giving up only nine second-chance points. The Panthers, however, turned the second half into an offensive rebounding clinic, grabbing 13 and scoring 20 second-chance points. Notre Dame had 11 second-chance points for the entire game.
Leading the way for Pittsburgh on the glass was sophomore DeJuan Blair. The Irish had no answer for the 6-foot-7, 265-pound. Forward, who grabbed a career high 22 rebounds to go along with 23 points.
“My team did a good job of getting me the ball,” Blair said. “Twenty-two rebounds? I didn’t know that. That’s crazy. That’s really something.”
Harangody, who guarded Blair for most of the afternoon, said that Blair is the toughest player to go against in the Big East.
“He never stops working,” Harangody said. “I love his game. Twenty-two rebounds is tough to do in one game. But their whole team played well, and it showed.”
Despite going up against another first-class big man, Harangody turned in another solid performance. He scored 27 points to go along with 11 rebounds and four assists.
Unlike previous games, Harangody got some scoring help from his teammates early in the game. Zeller scored a career-high 18 points, all coming on 3-point field goals in the first half. Forward Ryan Ayers rediscovered his shooting stroke, hitting two of four three-point field goals on his way to 10 points. Forward Zach Hillesland also notched double figures with 12 points.
u Despite its second half struggles, Notre Dame became the first team to crack the 80- point plateau this season against Pittsburgh.
“A silver lining,” Brey said. “When we had 45 on the board [at halftime], I said to my staff, ‘Let’s get 90.’ Even 90 wouldn’t have got it done today.”