SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Pitt finally found a way to beat Notre Dame – dominate the Irish on the boards.
It wasn’t easy, though.
Lamar Patterson grabbed the rebound after Notre Dame’s Eric Atkins missed his second foul shot on purpose and was fouled immediately, hitting both free throws to give Pittsburgh an 85-81 overtime victory Saturday.
The Panthers had a 38-22 rebounding advantage, outscoring the Irish 21-5 on second-point chances, to end Pitt’s five-game losing streak to Notre Dame.
“Our emphasis is always rebounding,” Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said. “For us, it is the number one factor, and we did it tonight.”
When asked why Notre Dame’s forwards had such a hard time keeping Pitt off the glass, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey responded: “Ask them.”
When told they weren’t made available to the media, Brey said: “Well, I’ll tweet something from them later tonight so everybody can get their feedback.”
Atkins credited the athleticism of the Panthers.
“They just beat us up,” Atkins said.
Notre Dame didn’t have its first offensive rebound until there was 13:31 left in regulation and their leading rebounder was Steve Vasturia – the 6-foot-6 guard hauling down six. Notre Dame’s forwards combined for nine rebounds.
Pitt’s Talib Zanna, who finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds, had 10 offensive rebounds.
“I never had 10 offensive rebounds. I was surprised,” he said. “It’s just because I go every time and it just kept falling into my hands.”
Zanna said he believes the Panthers wore the Irish down.
“I think we kept crashing, and they just kind of gave up, and we just keep attacking the glass,” he said.
Patterson finished with 20 points and seven rebounds and Cameron Wright had 15 points and five rebounds as the Panthers outscored the Irish 42-18 in the paint. Pat Connaughton led Notre Dame with 19 points, 17 coming in the first half, Atkins had 17 and Vasturia scored 12 of his 15 points in overtime.
The Panthers (10-6 Atlantic Coast Conference, 22-7 overall) fell behind by 12 in the first half, when the Irish shot 74 percent, and were forced to overtime when they managed just one basket in the final six minutes, but held a slight edge through much of overtime. The Panthers took the lead for good with 1:56 left when James Robinson made a pair of free throws and Zanna added a dunk 33 seconds later to give Pitt a four-point lead.
Vasturia hit a pair free throws with 5 seconds left to cut the lead to 81-80. But Michael Young and Patterson hit two free throws each in the closing seconds as the Panthers held on.
Patterson said the Panthers knew the Irish couldn’t keep up their torrid first-half shooting.
“That can only last so long. They had a stretch where they couldn’t hit anything and just by us being able to rebound those misses, it gave us a lot more opportunities on the other end,” he said.
Notre Dame (6-11, 15-15), which turned the ball over 24 times in its previous four games, had 16 turnovers against the Panthers as they lost for the first time in four overtime games this season. The Irish finished 13-6 at home, their most home losses since going 11-7 in 2004.
Brey said he was disappointed the Irish couldn’t send Atkins out with a victory in his final regular-season game at home.
“I have an unbelievable close relationship with him. He’s an extension of what we want to do,” he said. “He kind of finishes my sentences. He’s been a great ambassador, has represented, and is a class act.”
Dixon was pleased the Panthers didn’t wilt when the Irish got off to such a strong start.
“To withstand their barrage in the first half says a lot about our guys,” he said. “I thought it was a great character game for us to keep battling and keep fighting.”