Notre Dame overcomes 16-point deficit to beat Pittsburgh

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

PITTSBURGH -- Monday's game became a character test for No. 25 Notre Dame, one the Irish found a way to ace.
Looking shaky early against No. 20 Pittsburgh, the Irish fell into a 16-point hole in less than 13 minutes. The Irish got it turned around with defense and posted a 51-42 Big East victory over the Panthers.
Notre Dame led by as many as nine in the second half after outscoring the Panthers 48-23 following a first-half technical foul on Mike Brey.
Notre Dame's Jerian Grant contributed several big shots in the second half, when he scored 11 of his 13 points. Jack Cooley added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Irish.
Winners of five straight in the series against Pittsburgh and closing in on a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Irish improved to 21-6, 9-5 in the Big East, and are alone in fifth place.
Pittsburgh (20-7, 8-6) has lost two in a row, both to ranked teams, including Saturday's loss to Marquette.
Notre Dame found a way to win Monday by doing something it could not do two days earlier at Providence: defend. After allowing Providence to do as it pleased -- the Friars scored 71 points and outrebounded the Irish by 11 without encountering much resistance -- Notre Dame was a more determined bunch Monday.
The Irish held the Panthers to 34.8 percent shooting. That included 0-for-8 from 3-point range, the first time in Brey's tenure at Notre Dame that a league opponent couldn't get at least one 3 to fall against the Irish.
Notre Dame also dominated the backboard, finishing with 40 rebounds to 25 for Pittsburgh. And for one of the few times, it wasn't just Cooley working as a one-man show on the boards. Each of the five starters had at least four rebounds.
"The way we rebounded today was phenomenal," said Cooley. "To out-rebound them that badly is huge. It just shows how tough our team is."
Tray Woodall had 11 points and was the only Pitt player in double figures.
"We just let it get away from us," Woodall said."We played selfish."
After going 0-for-7 from the floor in the first half, Grant hit three big 3s in the second half. The first capped a 26-9 run and gave Notre Dame its first lead.
That basket came with just under 15 minutes left, and the ball bounced high off the rim and fell through to give Notre Dame a 29-28 lead. And when Cooley tipped in an Irish miss, Notre Dame's lead was bumped to three.
After Grant's third 3-pointer, which stretched the Irish lead to nine, Grant coolly glanced at the Irish bench and pointed to his head coach, who pointed back at Grant.
"He was telling me, 'Just keep shooting the ball,'" Grant said. "I was off, I had a couple turnovers, but I had to just keep shooting the ball."
The Irish, still sluggish after playing three of four league games in overtime, missed 18 of their first 19 shots to fall into an early 13-point hole.
Notre Dame then made five of six and pulled within two points following a Cooley basket.
Watching his team labor to make a shot and take care of the ball, Brey boiled over with 7:08 left in the first half. With his team down 17-3, Brey called for another 30-second timeout, and then used the break to yell at referee John Gaffney. Brey was slapped with a technical foul. He nearly was handed another, which would have meant an automatic ejection.
"I was just so frustrated on some of our drives; I thought we were getting bumped a little bit," Brey said. "He probably could have thrown me out, 'cause I stayed after him and he looked away.
"Sometimes that does change the vibe."
The two free throws for the technical foul increased the Pitt lead to 19-3, but the Irish began their comeback at that point, scoring 10 straight points to get back in the game.
By halftime, Notre Dame trailed by just three.
Notes: Monday was the third game in six days for Notre Dame, which has the next five days off. ... Both teams were coming off league losses Saturday . . . The Irish came into the game 0-2 in Big Monday games. ... Notre Dame had lost its last two league road games by 16 and 17 points . . . Monday's game was the 200th in the history of the Petersen Events Center . . .. Entering Monday's action, Cooley had 18 double doubles this season, 31 for his career. He fell one rebound short of a double double on Monday ... The Irish entered the game leading the league in assists (17.9) and were second nationally.

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