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Emotionally draining week ends of downer for Notre Dame — loss to Pitt

Chicago Tribune

PITTSBURGH — Still fired up from his team’s dramatic victory over Duke on Wednesday, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey issued a challenge to his No. 8 Irish: Go beat Pittsburgh on the road Saturday and I’ll consider you a special team.

He’s still waiting.

Pittsburgh upset Notre Dame 76-72 after guard James Robinson hit a runner in the lane to give the Panthers the lead with 12 seconds remaining. After an emotionally draining week in which Brey said his team stole two games against Duke and North Carolina State, the Irish finally got caught.

“We’re not (special) yet,” Brey said. “I said we have a chance to keep working on it — in search of being special.”

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The Irish’s defense, which has been leaky at times this season, was hemorrhaging on Saturday. The Panthers shot 59 percent and kept up with a Notre Dame offense that shot 53 percent.

“It was one of those games where I think we deserved to lose by 15,” Brey said. “Our defense hurt us today. We could never get enough stops to really win the game.”

Even so, the Irish (20-3, 8-2 ACC) had a 72-71 lead after guard Jerian Grant (14 points) hit two free throws to cap a personal 9-0 run that erased an eight-point deficit with 31.2 seconds remaining.

After Robinson’s basket put Pittsburgh (14-8, 4-5) ahead, the Irish had a chance to take the lead on a play that was eerily similar to the clinching basket against Duke.

Grant drove the lane and spotted sophomore Steve Vasturia in the right corner for an open 3-pointer.

“I almost didn’t even go to the glass,” Grant said. “I turned around and thought it was going in, but it rimmed out.”

For Brey, Vasturia’s shot not falling was a little karmic justice coming back at the Irish.

“It’s almost like the basketball gods said, ‘No, you can’t have this one,’ ” Brey said. “If you were going to steal it, you had to steal it after Jerian’s free throws. You had to get it there. When Robinson hit the runner, it’s almost like you don’t deserve it.”

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Notre Dame’s inability to defend a struggling Panthers team was the reason. The Irish couldn’t keep the Panthers in front of them without fouling or allowing easy baskets inside. The Panthers had a season-high 24 assists on 31 field goals. Robinson had 10 of those assists.

“We just need to be more disciplined,” said Demetrius Jackson, who led Notre Dame with 15 points. “We just need to have the will to stay in front of our guy.

“We still have a lot of improvement to make. I guess that’s the best part about (the loss) is that we haven’t reached our peak yet and we can still get better. It gives us an incentive to get going in the gym.”

chine@tribpub.com

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Twitter @ChristopherHine


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