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Notre Dame tops Pitt on the road

Allan Joseph and Chris Allen | Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fourteen minutes into their matchup at No. 20 Pittsburgh, it seemed like everything had gone wrong for the No. 25 Irish. Notre Dame (21-6, 9-5 Big East) had hit just one of its first 19 field goal attempts, and the Panthers (20-7, 8-6) had a commanding 17-3 lead in front of a raucous Petersen Events Center.

And then Irish coach Mike Brey earned a technical foul.

Yet rather than completely folding for its second ugly road loss in as many games, Notre Dame reeled off a 16-3 run to end the first half en route to an improbable 51-42 victory.

“I was just trying to keep our guys fired up,” Brey said after the game. “And the climate changed in the building, the vibe changed, our body language changed.”

Junior guard Jerian Grant, who missed his first seven shots, paced the Irish with 13 points, a total matched by senior forward Jack Cooley.

“[Grant] was great, really made us go when he get’s going in the second half making plays for us. I love the fact that he shot it some behind ball screens, the 3 he hit behind a ball screen may have been the shot of the game,” Brey said in a postgame radio interview with UND.com. “But we had just great team effort.”

Sophomore guard/forward Pat Connaughton jump-started Notre Dame’s first-half run with a pair of 3-point shots spaced 35 seconds apart, the first of which came shortly after Pittsburgh extended its lead to 19-3 with the free throws following Brey’s technical foul.

The deficit could have been bigger in the first half, but the Irish defense managed to contain the Panthers on the offensive end. Pittsburgh shot just 34.8 percent from the field on the night.

“Well when we started 1-for-19, it could have been [down] triple figures,” Brey said. “I love our toughness defensively because we weren’t very good offensively – and they were good defensively, give them credit. They’ve got a very good defensive team. But our defense let us hang around a little bit and we got at least a spurt before the end of the half. You felt like you had a shot.”

Notre Dame rebounded with a much-needed road win after an ugly 71-54 loss at Providence on Saturday, a loss in which the Irish struggled mightily in the second half.

“For [the coaches] it was a matter of, ‘Let’s teach. Let’s help us offensively.’ Of course it sure didn’t look that way the first couple minutes, but it was, ‘Let’s challenge them to be physical,'” Brey said. “They were probably embarrassed that they didn’t have more energy and fight Saturday against Providence. It’s a good group of guys we have, I thought they themselves motivated themselves to really compete again tonight.”

The Irish now face a nearly weeklong layoff before entering the homestretch of their conference schedule: just two home and two away games. Notre Dame currently sits at No. 5 in the conference, with three teams – Syracuse, Georgetown and Marquette – deadlocked at the top of the league. Brey said the victory gave his squad much-needed momentum heading into the break.

“I think you take away great confidence,” Brey said. “You take away a reinforcement of your identity.”

The Irish next host Cincinnati on Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. in Purcell Pavilion.

Contact Allan Joseph at [email protected] and Chris Allen at [email protected]