Irish too hot to stay close

Sophomores scorch Panthers in 2nd half

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- That wasn't Notre Dame's burn offense on display Tuesday night in a Big East Conference opener at Joyce Center. That was merely the Fighting Irish's young players burning Pitt at will in the second half en route to a 72-59 blowout victory.

Coach Mike Brey did not dip into his bag of tricks and slow down the game as he has in recent games against the Panthers. Rather, he put the ball into the hands of his three sophomore guards, who led a second-half barrage that stunned the 22nd-ranked Panthers.

Notre Dame (9-5, 1-0) shot 72 percent (18 for 25) in the second half to send the Panthers home with a second consecutive loss. Pitt (11-3, 0-1) lost for the fourth consecutive time to Notre Dame. That is the first time that has happened in Jamie Dixon's nine seasons as head coach. Only one other Big East team -- Marquette -- had won three in a row against a Dixon-coached team.

Maintaining a refrain that Dante Taylor sounded after a loss to Wagner, senior forward Nasir Robinson said the Panthers did not show as much as desire as their opponent.

"They were just knocking down shots, playing harder than us and wanted it more," Robinson said. "It's as simple as that."

Tray Woodall returned to the Pitt lineup for the first time since early December. He did not score and had two assists and two turnovers in 20 minutes.

Woodall said the dissatisfaction among the players has to do with opponents getting second and third opportunities on offensive rebounds. Even though Pitt outrebounded Notre Dame and Wagner by nine, the Panthers believe they are giving away too many offensive rebounds.

Notre Dame center Jack Cooley had five of the Irish's 10 offensive rebounds. Eric Atkins, a 6-foot-1guard, had three.

"We're saying that because teams are getting second and third chances," Woodall said. "We're a scrappy team. We're a rebounding-oriented team. We all think if they're getting second and third shots that they want it more than us. There shouldn't be another team in the country that outrebounds us. It's Pitt basketball. That's what we do. We rebound. That's what those guys are referring to. That's the second and third shots. When they get the second and third shots they're grinding us out with new clocks."

While rebounding played a part in the loss, Pitt's defense, or lack thereof in the second half, was the biggest reason the Panthers were beaten. Alex Dragecevich had 17 of his game-high 22 points in the second half. Atkins and Jerian Grant each added 15 points.

Dragecevich made three of his four 3-pointers in the second half and Grant made two of his three from behind the arc after halftime.

"The second half our defense let us down," Dixon said. "We gave up layups and then they turned into open jump shots, and they started making those."

Pitt, meanwhile, continued its horrid shooting from 3-point range. The Panthers were 1 for 14 from behind the arc. In the past three games they are 5 for 40 from 3-point range. They entered the game Tuesday night the third-best 3-point shooting team in the conference.

"We had three right in front of our bench that were wide open that we didn't hit," Dixon said. "That changes a lot of things. It's changed us in the last three or four games. We haven't shot it well. In this game, I thought we had really good looks. I can only think of one or two that were not great looks. You have to stick with it and continue to take them because we were making them over a long period of time."

Talib Zanna led the Panthers with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Robinson and Ashton Gibbs each added 12 points, but the Panthers shot just 40 percent from the field. In a game when the Panthers outscored the Irish, 42-28, in the paint and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds they left the building with some soul-searching to do before the New Year's Day home game against Cincinnati.

"We're just at a time now where we're kind of struggling," Robinson said. "We're going to get it together. We're going to keep practicing and working hard and move on to the next game. We just have to come together all as one. It starts in practice and carries over into games. We're slowing up right now. We're hitting a wall. We'll bounce back off of it and move on."

NOTES -- Woodall did not say at what percentage in which he played, but he admitted he was far from his usual self. "I can't even give you a percentage," he said. "I just didn't feel how I wanted to feel. I wasn't able to do what I wanted to do."... Gibbs was 0 for 2 from 3-point range and is 4 for 24 from behind the arc in the past four games. ... Robinson was 5 for 12 from the field and managed only two points after halftime.

Ray Fittipaldo: and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published December 28, 2011 5:00 AM


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