Notre Dame won the game they had to have by beating woeful the Pittsburgh Panthers 67-64 in the opening round of the ACC Tournament, but it wasn’t the most inspiring victory heading into a crucial second round matchup with Virginia Tech tomorrow night.
The Irish shot just 34-percent from the floor as a team, but held off numerous Panthers comebacks by getting it done at the free throw line, where they shot 26-31 on the day.
The Panthers finish their season with a goose egg in the conference win column.
The Irish wasted no time building a lead, jumping out to a 7-0 advantage thanks to three-pointers by Matt Farrell and Rex Pflueger. The Panthers immediately responded with a 10-3 run of their own to tie the game, but as their conference-worst 62 points per game reflected, there wasn’t enough offense to keep up with the Irish.
After starting 4-for-8 from the field, the Panthers shot just 5-for-24 for the rest of the first half, while the Irish began to settle in on the offensive end.
Pflueger and Bonzie Colson finished the half with nine points each on 7-of-10 shooting, while Matt Farrell added 10 points of his own to help the Irish enter the break with a 12-point lead.
While it felt like the Irish were preparing to run away with an easy win over an inferior opponent, the big run never materialized. The Panthers forced some stops and held the Irish offense to just six points in the first eight minutes of the second half to trim the deficit to eight.
The lead, once at 16, dwindled to just three by the nine minute mark of the second half after Pittsburgh’s Parker Stewart drained a corner three.
The once-sizzling Irish offense struggled for the majority of the second half. Farrell was held scoreless for the first 13 minutes of the second half until he nailed an off-balanced corner three on an inbounds pass, which also ended an Irish three-point scoring drought which stretched back to late in the first half.
Suddenly struggling from the floor, the Irish were forced to fight their way inside and get to the foul line, where they have been one of the most efficient free throw shooting teams in the conference.
While the Irish pitched a tent at the charity stripe, Pittsburgh continued to hang around, and eventually rattled off an 8-0 run to give the Irish a major scare.
With just two minutes remaining, Jared Wilson-Frame hit a straightaway three to cut the Irish lead to three, and the Irish responded with a sloppy turnover to put Pittsburgh in a position to tie the game. After a pair of free throws by T.J. Gibbs, Marcus Carr drained a three to make it a two-point nail-biter.
Farrell missed a three on the ensuing Irish possession, but Colson (as he always does) came up with a huge offensive rebound, drawing a foul in the process. He would hit both free throws before the Irish defense forced a steal on the other end, effectively ending the Panthers’ upset bid and evading a season-ending disaster.
Colson finished with a game-high 19 points.