I don't know how to describe the first thirteen minutes of tonight's Notre Dame/Pittsburgh contest. The Irish looked absolutely lost on offense, making one field goal in that span and allowing the Panthers to slowly work their way to a sixteen-point lead. It wasn't like Jamie Dixon's squad was any great shakes on offense, but a few fast break chances off of terrible Irish turnovers and some decent shot-making walked them up to what was basically an obligatory lead.
Mike Brey then earned a technical, and from that point on, it was a different game. Whether Brey was attempting to motivate his team or just blow off steam after a frustrating 53 minutes of road basketball, we'll never know, but the break in the action was followed by Pat Connaughton draining one three. Then another. And suddenly there was a little bit of life. Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins hit some free throws, then Atkins assisted his big men on a trio of baskets and what was a sixteen-point deficit slimmed to three at the half.
The Irish were absolutely dominant on the boards this game, something that always feels weird coming against Pitt. They outrebounded the Panthers 36-to-22, and 10-to-3 on the offensive boards, which helped put pressure on the opposition that couldn't really get it going from outside (Pitt ended up 0-for-8 from three). They were also active on defense, holding Pitt - one of the best assist-to-turnover teams in the country - to ten assists versus eight turnovers.
On offense, Jerian Grant had his typical Jekyll-and-Hyde game, turning the ball over six times and going 4-for-15 from the field, but his swagger was phenomenal in the second half as he knocked down a trio of long threes that helped take the Petersen Events Center crowd out of the game. Jack Cooley and Tom Knight were efficient from the field, which is particularly impressive when you consider the length and blocking capabilities of the Panther front line.
I'm having a hard time writing about this because the turn from how this team played on offense is really difficult to describe. Decisions were quicker and better while shots went down, but this team was so miserable for thirteen minutes, and then they were not.
I don't understand this team. No one does. In this team's two best wins of the season, Brey was able to smile and laugh his way through one and had to scream his way through the other. There's no point trying to figure it out: Let's just hang on for the ride.
Let's bullet point our way out of this because coherent thought is difficult after that sudden turn.
- Two classics from Raftery tonight, and sorry, but no context for you: "Caress me, baby" and "Have you ever been ridden?".
- Not a lot from the bench tonight. Zach Auguste helped out the late first-half run with an alley oop layup, but Cam Biedscheid went scoreless on two shot attempts and the Garrick Sherman renaissance may officially be over. I saw a rumor that Scott Martin was warming up before the game, so the rotation may deepen a bit in the near future.
- I will talk to anyone about Jerian Grant's game for as long as they're willing. I want to see our end-of-game offense turn into nothing but Grant/Cooley screen-and-rolls. Cooley is a capable finisher who can also stick the short J while Grant has the ability to slip into the lane, knock down the J or do something that makes you shout "Holy shit," either in amazement or anger. I love it.
- Zach Auguste needs to play a lot. He turned the ball over in the high post that led to a transition layup the other way, but his size is just so impressive and you can see him starting to figure it out. I don't think he'll be starting come Madison Square Garden, but he should be.
- Pat Connaughton is a great basketball player to have on your team. He bangs on the inside, puts effort into defense and can handle it a little. The jumper comes and goes, but that's something he can continue to work on through the next two-plus seasons.
- Pitt's Steven Adams had a great move on the aforementioned layup, going coast-to-coast with Auguste and Atkins shadowing him. He's welcome to stick around one more year since the Irish and Panthers won't meet, but I'd like him to be in the pros by Notre Dame's inaugural ACC season, thank you very much.
- That was a huge resume win for the Irish, who knocked off a very good Pitt team on the road. Notre Dame has four Big East games left against legitimate competition, and I think a win in any of them will secure their tournament bid. Obviously more is better, so hopefully they can take care of Cincinnati and St. John's at home since winning against Marquette or Louisville on the road is going to be a tough task.
- Now the Irish get to rest until Sunday, when they host the Bearcats at 2pm.