NOTRE DAME, Ind. – From despair to desperation to a shot at tying the game with 14 seconds remaining, a “one for the ages” comeback by Notre Dame in its 2016 ACC home opener ended up in the loss column as Pittsburgh claimed an 86-82 victory at Purcell Pavilion Saturday afternoon.
“We gave ourselves a chance, but we just weren’t ready to start that way and had to dig out of a hole,” said Irish head coach Mike Brey.
“For us to have a Matt Ryan three-pointer to tie, I don’t know that we deserved that.”
Notre Dame fell down by 18 points in the first half, cut it to six at halftime, and dropped back by 18 again with 10:48 remaining, only to make it an 83-80 game as Ryan – the freshman sharpshooter – came up short on a three-pointer just a few feet in front of Brey on the Irish sideline.
“We didn’t defend well enough,” said Brey, whose squad allowed the Panthers to convert 10 of their first 12 shots and shoot 58.6 percent in the first half. “When we shoot 54 percent for the game and turn it over three times, that’s usually good enough to win.”
Not against Jamie Dixon’s new-and-improved Panther squad that raised its record to 14-1 overall and 3-0 in conference play after failing to make the NCAA tournament last season and two of the last four years.
Notre Dame never led and trailed 15 seconds into the game. Pittsburgh scored the first 13 points of the game and converted eight of its first nine shots.
The Panthers relaxed after James Robinson’s basket with less than 11 minutes remaining seemingly put the Irish away. But Notre Dame (10-5, 1-2) kept chipping away as Bonzie Colson’s baseline basket completed an 11-0 run and cut the deficit to 73-68.
A minute later, Zach Auguste had picked up his fourth and fifth fouls, and by the 5:05 mark, Notre Dame was down 11 again. The Irish scored the next nine points and would come within Ryan’s three-pointer of tying, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“It’s a good learning lesson for our team,” said Dixon of withstanding Notre Dame’s valiant run. “At their place, up 18, things are going to happen. But we found a way and survived all kinds of runs.”
The first run was sparked by Irish junior guard Demetrius Jackson, who hit four three-pointers within a 2:45 span to bring the deficit down to eight points with less than nine minutes left in the first half.
Jackson would finish with a game-high 26 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field and 5-of-10 from three-point range.
“We fought hard and I’m proud of our guys,” Jackson said. “But it goes back to how we started. We gave ourselves a chance to win, but we’ve got to take more of a stand on the defensive end. We’ve got to be tougher, grow up and be men.”
There was no shortage of manhood on the Pittsburgh side with Michael Young scoring 25 points on 7-of-11 from the field and 11-of-14 from the free-throw line. When Young wasn’t doing damage in and around the paint, 6-foot-7 junior Jamel Artis was sparking a three-point attack that creased the Irish for 10-of-19 from beyond the arc.
Young, who came into the game averaging 16.8 points per game, scored 18 of his team-high 25 in the first half. Artis finished with 19 points on 5-of-9 shooting from three-point range, including 4-of-6 in the first half.
“We never had effort and defensive intelligence together much tonight,” Brey bemoaned. “Digging in and being smart about our positioning…We kind of played all over the place. They’re too good. They’ll burn you.”
Also hurting Notre Dame’s chances against Pittsburgh’s deep and talented squad was the 18 points of the bench from Sheldon Jeter, 14 of which came in the second half.
“(Young and Artis) can score,” Brey said. “The thing that’s hard to absorb is Jeter’s 18.”
Jeter came into the game averaging 8.3 points per game with a previous season-high of 13 points.
Three Irish players joined Jackson in double-figure scoring – Colson (13), Steve Vasturia (13) and Auguste (12). But it wasn’t enough against the Panthers, who out-scored the Irish off the bench, 26-10, and held a 34-24 rebounding edge, including 11-to-7 on the offensive glass.
“Any time you can’t hold serve at home in league play, it’s a tough one,” Brey said. “But we’ll teach and move on from it.
“It’s still early in this league. We have a lot to work with. I love our group. They want to be coached. They want to be better. As coaches, we’ve got to find ways to help them and put them in better position.”
Notre Dame returns to action Wednesday night at 9:00 when the Irish take on Georgia Tech at Purcell Pavilion.