Irish head coach Mike Brey's consistent Big East mantra of "one in a row" has bothered much of the program's fan base, but that theme and approach provided an elixir for the scrambling Irish tonight at the Purcell Pavilion.
Notre Dame used a 17-3 run in the first five minutes of the second half to bury No. 12 Pittsburgh, 68-53 in a game the home team could not afford to lose.
The win snapped a three-game losing skid for the Irish, who dropped the previous trio of season-altering contests by a total of six points over the last 13 days.
The decisive run was keyed by a pair of left wing three-point buckets by forward Carleton Scott. The redshirt-junior, making his second career start, was held scoreless in the first half but knocked down both open offerings in shot-clock situations to extend the Irish lead from 10 to 14, 43-29 with just over 15 minutes remaining.
Senior guard Tory Jackson added another three-point goal and Ben Hansbrough followed with a determined drive, reverse layup, and ensuing free throw…three points the old fashioned way. Junior Tim Abromaitis kept the party going with a corner jumper from beyond the arc and the rout was on with the Irish holding a commanding 52-30 advantage over a Panthers team that has defeated No. 8 West Virginia, Marquette, and No. 7 Villanova already this month.
The visitors managed just 10 points in the first 13 minutes of the second stanza.
Gritty Without 'GodyThe Irish, 18-10 (7-8) were led by Abromaitis with 17 points and 5 rebounds. The nation's best shooter hit 5 of 9 shots from the field including a 3-5 effort from beyond the arc while connecting on each of his four free throw attempts in 38 minutes.
Senior guard Ben Hansbrough added 15 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists while his backcourt mate Tory Jackson chipped in with 14 points and 7 assists. The pair combined to play 77 of a possible 80 minutes after battling for the Irish in a combined 98 of 100 minutes in last week's double overtime defeat in Freedom Hall.
"We've gotten a lot better (since the streak's opening loss) at spreading the floor out; taking good shots, and letting other guys adjust to their roles without ‘Gody," Hansbrough offered of his and Jackson's effort.
"It's taken a couple of games to do that but I think we've improved a little bit."
Tyrone Nash added 13 points, 7 boards, and 3 assists in the win. The junior post player has scored in double figures in three of his last four outings and more important, limited surging Panthers center Gary McGee to eight rebounds over the course of the contest.
"Just try to not to get pushed under, keep him off the glass, prevent offensive rebounds, and get out and run to try to beat him up and down the court," Nash observed of his approach vs. the conference's best offensive rebounder.
"To Notre Dame's credit, they made shots from the beginning to the end of the game," stated Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon. "It seemed as though they hit a lot of shots at the end of the shot clock, and when they did not make shots they were able to get long rebounds. The numbers just speak for themselves. They played well and made shots."
Tweaking the ApproachAfter the decisive second half run Notre Dame played conservatively for the game's final 11 minutes, consistently bleeding the shot clock to ensure long possessions and no easy points for the struggling Panthers.
"I'm happy for that group," Brey said of the Irish. "They've worked like heck since we lost Luke (Harangody) but they haven't finished one. I thought they really defended great and the tempo of our half-court offense helps us defensively.
"I think we've really grasped how to play a little bit slower since Luke isn't in there," Brey added of Notre Dame's three games (and counting) approach without their All America forward. "We've always had good basketball IQ guys and they've picked up on that a bit since Seton Hall (a 90-87 loss on February 11).
"But we got great shots at the end of long possessions and that's really Tory and Ben directing traffic. I thought they did a fabulous job of quarterbacking possessions the whole game."
The Irish out-rebounded the visitors 34-25 and knocked down 10 of 18 shots from beyond the arc while the Panthers struggled from long range, connecting on just 4 of 18 attempts.
Notre Dame led by as many as 11 in the first half though Pittsburgh cut into the Irish lead late, trimming the advantage to 27-23 on a Travon Woodall pull-up jump shot. The Irish answered with Tory Jackson three-pointer and 8-4 run to finish the first half, including a Jackson fade-away jumper at the buzzer.
Jackson has scored in double figures in four of his last five outings following a mid-season shooting slump.
"We took another step right here," Jackson said of the win. "Defensively we took another step in a positive direction and we have to keep building on it. Come in tomorrow (at practice) and do the same thing."
Notre Dame's next game is Saturday in Washington, D.C. vs. No. 11 Georgetown. The nationally-televised tip-off is set for noon (ET) on CBS.
"Georgetown has a great inside-outside game," Jackson added. "It will be a great challenge for us to carry the effort we had the last two games (to D.C.)."
- Tim Abromaitis has connected on a remarkable 30 of 51 three-point field goal attempts in eight Big East home games this season. The junior forward currently leads the nation at better than a 49 percent clip from beyond the arc.
- The game's pre-game ceremony celebrated the career of senior forward Luke Harangody, who was inducted into the newly formed Ring of Honor at the Purcell Pavilion. Harangody's No. 44 was unveiled prior to tipoff and will hang from the rafters hereafter. The Athletics Department will add a collection of previous program standouts to the Ring of Honor beginning in the 2010-11 seasons. A committee of Irish coaches and administrators will be formed to determine future inductees.
- Wednesday's victory was the 40th in the career of seniors Tim Andree, Luke Harangody, Tory Jackson, and Jonathan Peoples, matching the most wins by an Irish class in Big East regular-season play. This year's senior class is 40-27 to date. From 2000-04, the Irish finished 40-24 while Notre Dame was 40-26 from 2004-08.
- The 53 points allowed by Notre Dame matched the fewest surrendered to a ranked opponent in Mike Brey's 10 seasons at the helm. The Irish defeated then-No. 22 Pittsburgh, 55-53 at the Peterson Events Center in January 2002.
Note: IrishEyes will publish its player-by-player review of last night's contest late Thursday morning.