It looked like Pitt was on its way to an easy victory on Monday night. It wasn't the case as Notre Dame overcame a 16-point first half deficit and a 1-18 shooting performance to start the game. They turned it into a 51-42 win.
Despite holding Notre Dame to a season-low 19 points in the first half, Pitt ended up with a season-low 42 points for the entire game.
Jerian Grant and Jack Cooley paced the Irish with 13 points, followed by a 10-point effort from Eric Atkins. Tray Woodall led Pitt with 11. However, this a Pitt loss boiled down to getting outmanned on the boards, and a lack of second chance points. A 40-25 edge on the glass for Notre Dame, including a 13-6 edge on the offensive boards, also sparked an 8-0 difference in second-chance points.
"I didn't feel like our offense was really good," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said afterwards. "We played hard defensively; got some turnovers, got some steals. I didn't think we played well, even when we had the lead. We've got to get to work on it and fix it for Sunday."
Shooting can also be to blame. However, Pitt built a 16-point lead behind a 6-14 effort from the field. That lead dwindled to a 32-31 Irish lead, over a span where the Panthers shot 6-15.
Shooting was a big part of Pitt's collapse--good looks, bad looks, even passing up good looks--all can be classified as playing too selfish. That's how Woodall felt the team was playing, in good looks and in bad looks.
"Today was just a bad game," Woodall said. "We played selfish. We're a tam that plays well with nine or ten guys. Our assists numbers, our rebound numbers indicate how selfish we played. It resulted in a loss. We can't dwell on this game. We need to look at ourselves, and know we gave this game away."
Neither team registered a field goal in the game's first four minutes. Trey Zeigler got the first one, giving Pitt an early 3-1 lead.
Though Pitt's offense wasn't overly efficient, they were able to amass a 19-3 lead in the first 12 minutes of the game. The Panthers started off, shooting 6-14 for the game, en route to the 16-point lead. The bigger factor was Notre Dame shooting 1-18 to start the game, going the first 9:14 of the game without a field goal.
Pitt got a few early bounces, while Notre Dame could not convert any shots. Pitt did get in a rhythm, making three field goals in a row. With the Notre Dame offense still sputtering, J.J. Moore went underneath for a layup at the 13:37 mark. Notre Dame was called for goaltending on the next Pitt series; a shot by Cameron Wright. Dante Taylor hit a short jumper, making it an 11-1 Pitt lead. Mike Brey called his second timeout of the half.
The timeout proved some sort of value, as Tom Knight hit the first field goal of the game for Notre Dame, making it an 11-3 Pitt lead.
But, Pitt went on another run, building a 19-3 lead with 7:08 left in the half. They were getting great help on the defensive end, as Steven Adams blocked what would have been an easy layup for Cooley. On the other end, Lamar Patterson hit Woodall with a nice bounce pass. Woodall converted the short jumper to give Pitt a 17-3 lead. Brey called his third timeout of the half, and in the process was hit with a technical foul. Woodall converted both free throw attempts, giving Pitt the 16-point lead.
The technical, may have been the rallying point the Irish needed. Pat Connaughton missed two early three-point attempts, but made two quick ones after the technical. Notre Dame started the game 1-18 from the field over the first 13 minutes of the game. Connaughton's quick three-pointers came less than a minute apart, and sparked a 14-2 Notre Dame run over the next three minutes.
Afterwards, both sides agreed the technical was a significant changing point. Notre Dame outscored Pitt 48-23 for the raminader of the game.
"I definitely think so," Woodall said. "Seven or eight straight fouls. I'm not sure if the refs eased up or put on binoculars. After that, the game changed. We should have kept our composure and played our style. I guess after you hear the whistle a couple times, you tend to back up a little bit."
"I don't know how much," Brey said. "I was frustrated. We were getting bumped a little bit. (John Gaffney) probably could have thrown me out. I thank him for that. Sometimes, that does change the vibe."
Despite that 16-point Pitt lead, Notre Dame crawled back to make it a respectable 22-19 deficit at halftime.
"After being where we were, are you kidding me," Brey said of the halftime score. "We felt great. That's a moral victory going into halftime."
Pitt looked to re-establish that momentum that led to a 16-point first half lead. Early in the second half, it looked like that was the case. Patterson got the first bucket, then Adams came up with a scoop and score, leading to an early 4-0 run and an early Notre Dame timeout. Pitt went back up by seven, 26-19 to start the half.
As they had out of two previous timeouts, the Irish responded. This time, it was a 12-2 lead, and their first lead of the game since a 1-0 lead to start. Pitt bounced back with another 4-0 run to regain the lead. A game that was one-sided for the first 12 minutes, became a see-saw battle.
Notre Dame answered with a 5-0 run to regain a 35-32 lead, forcing Pitt to call timeout. Interestingly, Pitt started off shooting 6-14 to build a 15-3 lead. Since that point, and going into a three-point deficit, Pitt shot 6-15.
Even when Pitt led early, Notre Dame still outmanned them on the boards. As they were making their comeback, the difference on the glass became greater. So did Notre Dame's lead. When Pitt led early, the Irish still had a 15-12 edge on the boards while down by 12 in the first half.
When they led by six, 40-34 with six minutes left, they had a 35-22 edge on the boards.
It's hard to say that one player made the difference for the Irish, but a three-pointer from Atkins gave Notre Dame a 43-34 lead with 4:23 left. Woodall answered with a bucket--Pitt's first field goal in nearly eight minutes. Notre Dame answered by taking a solid minute off the clock. Though they missed a jumper, and the shot clock approaching zero, they got the ball back, dwindled the shot clock down again as Cooley forced his way inside for an easy layup. The Irish took a 45-36 lead with 3:01 left.
Pitt made just 4-17 field goals in the final nine minutes of the game.
"We didn't play well last game," Dixon added. "Our guys are extremely disappointed. I'm disappointed. I'm going to take full responsibility for how we played."