No. 8 Notre Dame has played with fire all season long, and on Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh, they finally got burned.
The Panthers got 20 points, eight boards and three assists from Jamel Artis, leading four players in double-figures, as they knocked off the Irish, 75-72, at the Peterson Events Center. James Robinson hit a go-ahead runner with 12 seconds left and Steve Vasturia missed a would-be game-winner from the same spot that he clinched Notre Dame’s win over Duke on Wednesday.
Credit the Panthers, who never once looked like an underdog on Saturday despite the fact that they were coming off of a loss at Virginia Tech earlier this week. It was the first win in ACC play for Tech in the Buzz Williams era and a critical blow to Pitt’s already-slim tournament chances. If Jamie Dixon is going to get this group back to the NCAA tournament this season, beating the Irish on Saturday was as close to a must-win as you can get on January 31st.
But the bigger story here is Notre Dame, whose issues on the defensive end of the floor were on full display on Saturday. Pitt scored 1.246 points-per-possession on Saturday, numbers that are roughly equivalent to what Miami and N.C. State did to Duke when the Blue Devils lost back to back games earlier this month. This isn’t surprising, however, as Notre Dame ranks outside the top 150 in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom.
They win because they are one of the two best offensive teams in the country.
They win because Jerian Grant is having a National Player of the Year-caliber season.
But on Saturday, he had just five points on 1-for-3 shooting with four minutes left in the game and Notre Dame down 71-63. He went on a personal 9-0 run, which gave Notre Dame the lead prior to Robinson’s runner, and he even found Vasturia for the would-be game-winner. This issue isn’t his talent, it’s that he spent 36 minutes playing far passive as the Irish dug themselves yet another hole. Four of their last five wins came after erasing a double-digit deficit.
I’m not going to lie, that makes the Irish a fun team to watch. They score a lot and they make wild comebacks? Sign me up.
The issue is that eventually that is going to catch up with them; you can’t simply rely on making late-runs and the end-of-game excellent of Grant all season long.
Saturday, it did.