No. 22 Pitt can't keep up with Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND, Ind.—Clinging to a one-point lead at halftime, No. 22 Pittsburgh needed to tighten up its defense against Notre Dame.
Nothing seemed to work against the Irish.
Notre Dame shot 72 percent in the second half and ran away for a 72-59 victory over the Panthers on Tuesday night.
"They were just knocking down shots, playing harder than us and wanted it harder," Pittsburgh forward Nasir Robinson said.
Pittsburgh lost its second-straight for Pittsburgh. It lost at home to Wagner on Dec. 23. In both games, Pittsburgh (11-3, 0-1 Big East) failed to score 50 points.
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon pointed to an inability to make open shots as the downfall of the Panthers.
"We haven't shot it well," Dixon said. "This game I thought we had good looks."
The Panthers shot 1 for 14 from behind the 3-point line.
Tray Woodall returned to the lineup for Pittsburgh, but did not score in his 18 minutes. After missing the last six games with injuries, Woodall was given the green light to play up to 20 minutes,
Dixon said. Woodall was averaging 14.1 points per game at point guard before his injury.
Woodall refused to use his injured groin and abdomen and long absence from the court as an excuse.
"I can't blame it on that," Woodall said. "We just didn't play well tonight."
Notre Dame (9-5, 1-0) beat Pittsburgh for the fourth straight time and extended its home winning streak to 28 games.
Irish coach Mike Brey called Notre Dame's win one of the best games he coached for the program.
"I have been a part of a lot of fun games here," he said. "But this one ranks right up there with the best. To see us play with that swagger in the second half, I guess I just wasn't sure this group was ready for that."
Notre Dame missed only seven shots in the final 20 minutesy, hitting 18 of 25, including 5 of 8 from beyond the arc.
Alex Dragicevich scored 17 of his game-high 22 points, including a 3-for-3 effort from beyond the arc, in the second half. Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins scored 15 apiece and Grant had nine assists. Jack Cooley gathered 14 rebounds, including 10 in the first half.
But it was Dragicevich that got the crowd excited.
"It was more of a collective effort than anything," Dragicevich said. "We all knew we needed this win and my teammates told me they were going to put me into a position to score and they did. I knocked a couple down and it was a great feeling."
Pitt was led by Talib Zanna, who had 13 points and 12 rebounds. Robinson and Ashton Gibbs each added 12 points.
Brey said that he was pleased with the performance of his three guards, but that he was not satisfied.
"Now I need to ask them in practice if they can do that for 40 minutes," he said. "Tonight we did it for 20 and now we need more."
Pittsburgh led 26-25 at halftime after a physical first 20 minutes. Holding a 25-16 advantage in rebounding, the Panthers struggled from the field with a 34.5 shooting percentage. Notre Dame struggled just a little bit more at 32 percent.
Pittsburgh led by as many as seven points in the first half after an 8-0 run with 7:46 left in the half. The Irish bounced back with a 10-0, four-minute run of their own to take a 22-19 lead, before
slowing down to end the half.
Notre Dame's efficiency in the second half was just too much for the Panthers to overcome.
"Give them credit," Dixon said. "They were patient and we just had some breakdowns that are pretty hard to recover from."