Notre Dame staged a furious second half run, largely in part to 19 points from Ben Hansbrough, as the No. 15 ranked Fighting Irish upset the No. 2 ranked Pitt Panthers 56-51 at the Petersen Events Center. It's the highest-ranked team Notre Dame has ever beat on the road. It also marks Pitt's first loss at home since a 74-66 loss to Georgetown on January 20, 2010. It's only Pitt's 12th loss ever at the Petersen Events Center.
Ben Hansbrough scored 15 of his game-high 19 points in the second half. Carleton Scott added 16 for the Irish. Three-point shooting was the key as well with Scott and Scott Martin combining for eight three-pointers, including a 5-for-6 performance from Scott. Gilbert Brown led Pitt with 13 points. Brad Wanamaker added 12 in the losing effort.
It's also the third win in a row for Notre Dame over Pitt. The Irish knocked the Panthers out of the first round in last year's Big East Tournament in a 50-45 win. They also won 68-53 last February in South Bend. The Irish, similar to the win at Madison Square Garden, beat the Panthers by taking long possessions, giving Pitt a limited time with the ball.
"We weren't good enough offensively, we weren't good enough defensively in a short-possession, low-possession game," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. "You need to be."
Notre Dame led the game through the first five minutes, thanks to a pair of three-pointers from Scott Martin. The Irish led Pitt 8-5 up until the first media timeout. After that early 8-5 lead, however, it was Pitt who pulled away thanks to its three-point shooting. The Panthers were getting good looks at the basket. In the first few minutes, because of Notre Dame's ball possession and the fact they were making good shots, Pitt didn't have too much time with the ball.
Pitt got its share of good looks in the first half, but still only shot 39 percent. They were held to two assists, while committing three turnovers in the second half--this from the team who entering the game led the country in assists (18.9 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5).
"From the jump, I knew (Notre Dame was going to slow down the tempo)," Gilbert Brown said. "That pretty much is their formula for us. For them, its worked the last three games (against Pitt). We really have to adjust. We're usually the team who grinds it out and plays the half-court set, offense and defense. We failed to meet the challenge that they brought today."
Ashton Gibbs hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 8-8 with 15:20 to play. On the next possession, Pitt started picking the tempo up. Wanamaker, off a dribble-penetrate, found a wide-open Travon Woodall, who connected with his first three-pointer of the half. Wanamaker added a three-pointer one a one-on-one opportunity, putting Pitt up 14-8. Mike Brey was forced to call a 30-second timeout to get his team to regroup.
Woodall added a second three-pointer in the half to later put Pitt up 17-13. Gilbert Brown added a three-pointer to put Pitt up 22-18 with just over five minutes left in the half. Pitt led by as many as seven, 28-21, after a jumper from Gibbs off an in-bounds pass from Woodall. The Panthers took a 28-23 lead into the locker room. Both teams were 5-of-10 from three-point range in the first half.
Hansbrough had his way with the Pitt defense all night, especially over the final 10 minutes of the game. He blew past Gibbs on his way to a driving layup, tying the score at 39-39 with 9:20 left. To this point in the Big East season, Pitt had only trailed or been tied with its opponent for a total of five minutes in its first seven conference games.
Even though Brown answered with a driving layup from the wing, to put Pitt back up 41-39 with 9:00 left, it would be the last time the Panthers would see the lead in the game. Hansbrough answered with a three-pointer while being defended by Dante Taylor, which gave Notre Dame the lead at 42-41 with 8:20 left.
Drawing the big man from inside was definitely the matchup Notre Dame was looking for. It had worked well from different spots of the court with other players like Scott and Martin who had big games from three-point range. Hansbrough found that same matchup, executed it, and gave his team the lead.
"We were really hurting them when we had that shooter," Hanbrough said. "I would drag that guy, and they would know the other guy is coming back. I would take the opportunity to focus on the weakside help defender. We'd have Carlton come up twice, and he'd knock down some shots. I wasn't really surprised, especially the way I was dragging them. I think they wanted to take that away."
Notre Dame capitalized on its next play, converting a four-point play after Scott drained his fifth three-pointer of the game from the wing. He converted his free throw to give the Irish a 46-41 lead with 7:12 to play. It was their biggest lead of the game.
"I thought that was a huge play, especially the way Pittsburgh was guarding us," Hansbrough added. "I'm not sure if we had the lead or not. We were up by five, and that was a four-point play. All of the sudden, things get really interesting if that (four-point play) doesn't happen."
Hansbrough added two more driving layups down the stretch. The second one game Notre Dame a 53-49 lead with 2:09 left.
Pitt had one more chance as Wanamaker took one strong to the hole, for a roll-in layup. Wanamaker's two-pointer cut Notre Dame's lead to 54-51with 1:18 left. Notre Dame called a full timeout to set up their next possession. The Pitt defense came up with a stop, as Wanamaker came up with the steal.
Wanamaker drove to the hoop again--similar to the last basket he converted. This time, the basket didn't go down. There was no intent to draw a foul, and no intent on getting a timeout. Pitt felt they had the look they wanted.
"We were just thinking best shot possible," Wanamaker said. "I went up to make the layup, and I missed. I don't think I got fouled. I should have made the layup."
Hansbrough added one more drive to the basket for good measure, as Notre Dame led 56-51 with 17 seconds left, which ended up being the final score.
"They deserved to win, they made the plays down the stretch," Dixon added. "I was disappointed in how we executed offensively and defensively. Notre Dame had a lot to do with that.