Irish down Pitt in impressive home win
Inigo Yturralde | Thursday, February 6, 2020
The Irish (14-8, 5-6 ACC) won their third consecutive game Wednesday night, defeating the visiting Pittsburgh Panthers (14-9, 5-7 ACC) 80-72.
This was an important win as the Irish race to finish the season with the best possible record. Competing in one of the toughest conferences in the country, every win counts in order to bolster the team’s NCAA tournament chances.
After the game, head coach Mike Brey had positive things to say about his team and their performance.
“A good night. Their defense bothered us early,” Brey said. “They’re quick and they get out in passing lanes. I thought that we adjusted and were really poised and were confident that eventually they couldn’t stay with us, offensively. Great win and a great home stand. It kind of keeps us within shouting distance.”
After this game, Notre Dame is seventh in the ACC and only a few games away from the likes of Virginia and Syracuse, who currently sit at four and five respectively. If the Irish continue to win consistently, this team could be the one that puts the program back into contention for an ACC title.
Against the Panthers, Notre Dame was dominant on offense — especially in the first half, outscoring the visitors 42-33. When asked about the offensive effort shown by the squad, Brey answered that the team has progressed dramatically from last season.
“I think that there have always been spurts, even last year in practice with this group,” Brey said. “Those sophomores were freshmen and not quite as ready and confident. Rex just stirs the drink and he really helps T.J. [Gibbs] … Gibbs is playing as good as anybody, especially after a really hard year last year. I am so proud of him.”
Additionally, Brey gave praise to sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb.
“We usually figure it out, and Prentiss has total control,” Brey said. “I text him every now and then, ‘You’re my Mahomes.’ He has total control of this thing and he is our Mahomes. He has been really good.”
Brey also attribute some of the team’s recent success to this year’s captains.
“I give our captains a lot of credit,” Brey said. “Gibbs, Mooney and Pflueger have set a great tone, they obviously know the clock is ticking on their careers and I think that they have played well with those other guys. February has got to be our month. That’s all that’s left. That’s what they have said.”
Brey echoed this by explaining how at times he is not the one making calls or game time decisions.
“It’s their team,” Brey said. “I am on the train too.”
Another big piece for the Irish on Wednesday night was senior Juwan Durham. The transfer from Connecticut scored 11 points against the Panthers and has shown promise, adjusting to Notre Dame’s recent, small style of play.
“I was very proud of Juwan tonight,” Brey said. ”We’ve been going away from him and downshifting and having pretty good success. I thought that he really responded and gave us good stuff. You just never know who is going to be in the lineup to do it.”
Looking ahead, the Irish are preparing to face a tough road stretch against four fierce ACC opponents.
“We know how to play,” Brey said. “The one thing that I have been trying to remind myself is don’t over-coach us offensively. We did what we needed to do here and now we’ll deal with this road thing. The road thing needs to be looked at as an opportunity, not, ‘Oh my god, look at what’s coming.’ It is the toughest stretch that we have ever probably played in the history of our program, but it is an opportunity. Especially after we did here to get back to five and six. We need a little rest and then we’ll deal with Clemson and Virginia.”
The Irish are set to play against Clemson on Feb. 9 and Virginia two days later. The next three weeks will help define whether the squad will reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017.