South Bend, Ind–Pittsburgh (14-9 overall, 5-7 ACC) traveled to South Bend, for a bout with Notre Dame (14-8 overall, 5-6 ACC). The Irish and Panthers entered Wednesday night with nearly identical records in conference play and are jockeying for a position in the ACC. After a back-and-forth opening 20 minutes, Notre Dame escaped with an 80-72 win to begin the second half of the conference schedule.
T.J. Gibbs led all scorers with 21 points and went 5-of-8 from 3-point range. John Mooney added to his season of double-doubles with 17 points and 10 rebounds, giving him 18 double-doubles for the year. Juwan Durham and Nate Laszewski chipped in 11 points apiece.
Notre Dame shot 50% from the field and 54% from three in the first half, beating Pitt’s tough zone defense for 42 points in the opening period. The Panthers’ offense wasn’t terrible in that first half but just a little careless with the ball. They had difficulties shooting over the top of the zone consistently in that half.
The Fighting Irish led 42-33 at halftime behind 50% shooting that included 7-for-13 from 3-point range. Gibbs paced Notre Dame with 11 points at the break, hitting each of his three attempts from downtown.
Xavier Johnson led all scorers with 12 points at the half.
The Panthers didn’t play particularly bad throughout the game, Notre Dame just made enough shots early to separate themselves.
The Panthers hung tough against the Irish. They were 4-9 from downtown and had 10 points off of turnovers helped Pitt keep within striking distance of the Irish. But sophomore guard Prentiss Hubb hit his second three of the game at the buzzer to push the Irish lead to nine points at the break.
As the second half began, both teams came out firing, with Mooney making a two-point shot, followed by Champagnie making a three-point shot. The Irish were up 44-36. Durham then made a shot from the paint to go up by 10 points, which was answered by a trey by Champagnie, 46-39 Irish. McGowens then made a jump shot, which John Mooney answered with a trey of his own, his first of the evening. 49-41 ND.
Pitt sent double-teams when the ball went into the paint, the Irish passed well out of Pitt’s pressure to get open for 3-pointers.
Nevertheless, Pitt kept the deficit to single digits after a less than stellar half. But following the break, ND began to pull away. After Pitt pulled within five points at the 15:35 mark in regulation, the Irish went on an 11-0 run over 2:29 of game time to open up their largest lead of the game at 16.
Pitt never recover from that last run by the Irish.
Pitt has an upside to all of this though, first-year forward Justin Champagnie recorded another double-double, with 20 points and 11 rebounds, both team highs. Sophomore guards Trey McGowens and Xavier Johnson got back on track with 15 and 17 points, respectively. The dynamic duo also combined for nine rebounds and six assists to only two turnovers.
The Panthers return to action this Saturday when they host Georgia Tech for a 2 p.m. tip-off from the Petersen Events Center.