Pitt blows huge lead, falls 51-42 to Notre Dame

Panthers give up 16-point, late first-half advantage in devastating loss to Irish

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Even when Pitt held a commanding 19-3 lead late in the first half Monday night in a game against Notre Dame, Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon did not feel good about his team. It wasn't so much exemplary execution on Pitt's part that led to the lead as it was downright ineptitude on the part of Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish eventually fixed their problems, but the Panthers never did and fell, 51-42, in a Big East Conference showdown before 12,556 shocked spectators at Petersen Events Center.

The loss dropped No. 20 Pitt (20-7, 8-6) into a seventh-place tie with Villanova (17-10, 8-6) in the Big East, a half-game ahead of Cincinnati and St. John's. Pitt's next game is Sunday at St. John's.

No. 25 Notre Dame (21-6, 9-5) moved into sole possession of fifth place and continued its dominance over the Panthers. It was the fifth consecutive victory in the series between the two schools, and no doubt the most disheartening.

The 42 points were the second fewest of the Jamie Dixon era, trumped only by the 39-point output in a year ago in a home loss to Rutgers.

"Our offensive efficiency numbers had been terrific," Dixon said. "This put an end to that."

Pitt shot 35 percent from the field and only made six baskets in the final 17:54, and two of those came in the final 1:22 when the game was already decided.

"We played selfish," senior guard Tray Woodall said. "We're a team that passes the ball, but our assist numbers and rebounding numbers indicate how selfish we played. We have to find ourselves, look at ourselves."

Pitt had 10 assists on 16 field goals and got hammered on the backboards, 40-25. The Panthers entered the game the top rebounding team in the conference, but the Irish continually crashed the boards with success and tracked down almost every loose ball. The 15-rebound deficit was by far the largest of the season against Pitt.

"We've been drilling it, talking about it," Dixon said. "Our losses have had a common denominator. That's where we came up short in our seven losses."

Notre Dame opened the game by missing 19 of its first 20 shots and committed six turnovers in the first 13 minutes. Nothing was going right for the Irish during play, so coach Mike Brey tried to change the momentum on a timeout.

Brey was whistled for a technical foul when his team trailed, 17-3, for arguing with official John Gaffney. Two Woodall free throws yielded the 16-point margin, but it might have been the biggest moment of the game. From that point, Notre Dame outscored Pitt, 48-23.

"Sometimes that does change the vibe," Brey said. "Once we got a couple of in transition we took a deep breath."

Pat Connaughton drilled consecutive 3-pointers 51 seconds apart to cut the deficit to 19-10 and spark the comeback.

"That felt like we tied it quite frankly," Brey said of that moment. "The vibe changed in the building. That set the tone for us to have some offensive confidence."

Amazingly, Notre Dame shot a higher percentage than Pitt by game's end. The Irish shot 60 percent in the second half and finished at 38 percent. The Panthers shot 35 percent.

The Panthers did not make a 3-point field goal for the second time this season. They were 0 for 8 from behind the arc. What drew the ire of Dixon and Woodall afterward was the Panthers passed up a number of open 3-pointers for passes that led to contested shots.

Lamar Patterson, the team's leading scorer in Big East games, was most guilty of that. He finished 1 for 5 from the field and only scored two points.

"That's selfish also, to be open and not shoot the ball," Woodall said. "That's selfish, too. You have to take what the defense gives you."

Dixon has said all season many of his players are too unselfish and he agreed that hurt his team Monday night.

"We have some guys who are too unselfish," Dixon said. "We got tight. As the game went on we passed some open shots and ended up throwing up a guarded shot. That makes your offense incredibly inconsistent. We never got in a rhythm where we were finding guys and getting guys shots."

Dixon has five days to fix the team's mounting problems. After winning seven of eight, the Panthers have lost two in a row and must right themselves for the final four games of the regular season.

"We have to get it fixed, get something changed," he said. "This is not the same team we had been. To get outrebounded by 15, that's an unbelievable number. I take full responsibility for how we played."

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Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @rayfitt1. First Published February 19, 2013 5:00 AM


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