PITTSBURGH – Notre Dame has found the key to beating Pitt: “burning.”
That’s what Irish coach Mike Brey said after his team beat Pitt, 56-51, Monday night. The loss was Pitt’s (19-2, 7-1 Big East) first in conference play this year and was a result of Notre Dame’s (17-4, 6-3) patience.
“We certainly executed our game plan of burning clock and executing at the end of the clock,” Brey said. “I think what won us the game, though, was we defended and defensive rebounded the last five minutes to escape.”
The last five minutes were, indeed, decisive.
After a four-point play by forward Carleton Scott and a free throw from forward Tyrone Nash, the Irish had a 47-45 lead with 5:11 to play. Pitt center Gary McGhee went to the free throw line with a chance to tie the game but missed both of his attempts, the second of which eventually landed in the arms of Scott.
Irish guard Ben Hansbrough then proceeded to “burn clock,” running the shot clock under 10 seconds – a theme for nearly every possession on the night. With just seconds left to shoot he rolled right, got a mismatch against McGhee and fired a long 2-pointer for a four-point lead.
He was just getting started.
Hansbrough got the same mismatch on the very next possession and beat McGhee to the basket. He beat Pitt guard Ashton Gibbs on a third straight possession for a 53-49 lead with 2:32 remaining.
“It was a matter of us breaking down and (Hansbrough) hitting tough shots,” Pitt guard Brad Wanamaker said. “We had our hands in his face. Sometimes he got too easy to the basket.”
Wanamaker made a layup to close the gap to three, but missed his next layup attempt and Hansbrough made a layup on the other end for a 56-51 win. He finished the game with 19 points, eight of which came in the final 5 minutes.
“We did a lot of things uncharacteristic of ourselves,” Pitt small forward Gilbert Brown said. “You see the outcome. That’s the reason why we lost.”
Pitt is a team that’s used to scoring points, rebounding well and pushing the ball in transition. Instead, the Panthers were held to their lowest point total of the season and outrebounded the Irish by just six.
Pitt is not used to defending for almost 35 seconds on nearly every possession, and that’s what Notre Dame did, making the Panthers uncomfortable.
Pitt was never able to get a big lead on the Irish, though it did lead for most of the game. The Panthers’ largest lead was seven points, 28-21, and led by six points three different times. However, the lead never reached double digits, allowing Notre Dame to comfortably remain in their offensive set.
“From the jump I knew they were gonna (burn clock),” Brown said. “As soon as I seen them hold it for their first possession I seen it coming. That pretty much is their formula for us.”
Pitt shot just 40 percent on the night while Notre Dame shot almost 50 percent. Accordingly, the Irish had three players in double figures – Hansbrough, Scott (16) and guard Scott Martin (10) — to just two for Pitt: Brown with 13 points and Wanamaker with 12.
“Basically, sometimes we got a little impatient,” Brown said. “We’ve been playing a lot of up and down with a lot of teams in the Big East and throughout our non conference, where we were able to push the ball in transition and screen.
“We’ve never really (played) a team that’s slowed it down. We haven’t really played half-court defense and offense the whole game.”
Admittedly, Notre Dame hasn’t burned clock all season. Brey and his players said after the game that it isn’t something they typically do, but it has been effective against Pitt. The Irish have now beaten Pitt three straight times.
This one — just the 12th loss ever for Pitt at the Petersen Events Center — might be the most memorable, Hansbrough said.
“This is probably the best win I’ve had, maybe ever.”
Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog