You can’t chalk that one up to luck.
The Irish went into the Peterson Events Center Monday night and knocked off the Panthers, 56-51. Notre Dame came into this one 0-4 on the road this year, losing by an average of 16.5 ppg in those four losses. Pitt had won 20 in a row at home, 51 of their last 52, and was 145-11 overall and 61-10 in Big East play in their nine seasons at the Pete.
The Irish beat the Panthers playing the same way they did last season when Luke Harangody went out with an injury. They completely took the air out of the ball. They milked the shot clock on every possession and slowed the game to a crawl. How slow? Well, the 48 possessions was the slowest paced game in major college basketball this season.
Most importantly, for what seemed like every possession during the second half, the Irish spread the floor and ran a pick-and-roll with Ben Hansbrough and either Scott Martin or Carleton Scott.
The result was perfection. Hansbrough torched the Irish defense down the stretch. The Panthers tried everything. If they hedged and recovered, Hansbrough found Scott or Martin open for a three. If they switched, Hansbrough simply drove right by the Pitt big man. If Hansbrough’s defender went under the screen, he pulled back and knocked down a jumper.
Pitt took their biggest lead of the game at 31-25 with just over 15 minutes left. From then on, it was the Psycho B show. Tyler’s kid brother had 15 of his 19 points during that stretch to go with four of his seven assists as Notre Dame outscored Pitt 31-20.
It was exactly the same philosophy that Notre Dame when they swept Pitt last season.
If you remember, Notre Dame’s season looked like a lost cause. They had lost three in a row, the last two coming without Harangody, who suffered a bone bruise in his knee. Sitting at 6-8 in the conference, Brey employed this style of play for the final four regular season games, starting with Pitt. The Irish won all four and their first two games in the Big East Tournament — including a win over No. 2 Pitt in the quarters — before dropping a semifinal matchup with West Virginia.
Its not a secret that defense isn’t the strong suit of this Panther team; their offensive efficiency is. But it is still alarming when you see a team like Pitt get this carved up defensively. They couldn’t do anything against Notre Dame’s high ball screens and their help side defense was non-existant.
Part of the latter was effective game planning by Mike Brey. Who ever McGhee was guarding set the screen. McGhee is a physical presence on the block, but he’s not a guy you ideally want defending out on the perimeter. He also happens to be Pitt’s only real shot blocking threat unless Jamie Dixon wants to play two centers. Brey also put shooters in both corners. You couldn’t help on Hansbrough’s drive without leaving a shooter wide open. There are ways to defend that style of play, but Pitt didn’t make the necessary adjustments.
Perhaps the most impressive part about this victory is that they won despite second-leading scorer Tim Abromaitis not even attempting a field goal all game long. He only took two free throws.
You knew Notre Dame was eventually going to figure out how to win on the road.
I’m just not sure anyone expected them to get their first win at Pitt.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.