February 18, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers center Steven Adams (right) shoots over Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Jack Cooley (45) during the first half at the Petersen Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers outrebounded in loss to Irish

The Pittsburgh Panthers men’s basketball team were outrebounded and blew a 19-3 first half lead leading to a 51-42 loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

“We played selfish,” Tray Woodall said. “We are a team that passes the ball. We work well with nine and ten guys. Tonight we had nine without Durand (Johnson). It’s just numbers and our rebound numbers indicate how selfish we played. It resulted in a loss. We can’t dwell on this game and find ourselves.”

Considering the start, Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey was extremely happy with his team.

“For our group to withstand that start, I’m just so thrilled with how we guarded and rebounded,” Brey said. “To outrebound them (Pitt) by 15 and keep them off the offense boards, because they do that so well, it was huge. Early in the game it was hard because of their defense because their defense just is so good. I’m thrilled for our group, it seems like we’ve been on the road for awhile and to end this road trip with a win against these guys here is great.

The first half of the game truly appeared to be a runway. Notre Dame had a brief 1-0 lead when Jack Cooley made a free throw but after that it was all Panthers.

The Panthers used a nine man rotation as Durand Johnson was out with the flu. This rotation effectively contained Notre Dame and double teamed Cooley when a pass went into the paint. Cooley came in with 18 double doubles in 26 games.

The crowd noise went at a high when an easy lay-up about to be made by Garrick Sherman was blocked out of nowhere by Steven Adams.

It took until the 10:45 mark of the first half for Notre Dame to make their first shot from the field and even then they trailed 11-3.

Down 19-3 Brey called a timeout and was called for a technical foul, certainly an effort to motivate his team.

“I was just so frustrated and thought on some of our drives we were getting bumped a little bit,” Brey said. “He probably could have thrown me out because I stayed after him and he looked away and I thank him for that.”

As for what he told his team during the timeout?

“I didn’t talk too much because I was a raving lunatic through most of that time-out after the technical but they really talked to themselves,” Brey said. “I did tell them that we were defending pretty well, just hang on in there because we are defending well and only giving them one shot, so we’re going to get a spurt here. For us to be down only three at halftime, are you kidding me, after where we were, we felt great being at three so that was a moral victory going into halftime.”

Finally with 5:30 to go in the first half, the Fighting Irish picked up their game as Pat Connaughton made two threes to bring the score to 19-9. Notre Dame would further chip the lead and the final run was 16-3 to close out the half. Pitt lead 22-19 after the first 20 minutes of the game.

The defensive struggle ontinued in the second half but it appeared as though Pitt would get the best of it. Just over two minutes into the half, Adams read a pass and stole the ball and ran the ball the full length of the court for a finger roll lay-up. The Panthers lead was 26-19 at that point.

The Irish would not go away though and Eric Atkins made a big three to give his team a 29-28 lead, their first lead since that 1-0 advantage.

The Panthers would fight back and a James Robinson two gave his team the lead again but that only made the Fighting Irish stronger. Cooley would step up with a big steal and Jerian Grant would bury a big three. All of a sudden Notre Dame had created some separation leading 40-34 with 5:31 left to play in regulation.

Looking at the numbers, the Panthers were outrebounded by 15, had 0 second chance points and also put up a 0 in three pointers made. This is the second time that has happened this season.

“I thought even with the lead I didn’t feel like our offense was very good,” Panthers Head Coach Jamie Dixon said. “I thought we played hard defensively when we got some turnovers and steals that got us some transition buckets, but again, I didn’t think we played well even when we had the lead, to be honest. That really speaks to 40 minutes of not playing to the level we’ve been playing to. We’ve got to get something fixed and we’ve got to get it changed. To get out-rebounded by 15 (tonight) is just an unbelievable number.”

Cooley understandably was pleased with the rebounding numbers.

“To out rebound them that bad is huge, it just shows how tough our team is,” Cooley said. “Pat Connaughton pulled down some rebounds today and it was some of the the most impressive rebounds I have ever seen. Everyone just came in with the mentality of getting boards; it is so great to see, instead of just one out liar everyone just working together.”

The Irish would make free throws and play steady down the stretch. The Panthers now slip to seventh in the Big East Conference and next play Sunday at St. John’s with the tip scheduled for noon on Root Sports.

Stat of the game: 48-23 – This was the points advantage for Notre Dame after Brey’s technical foul.

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