Behind timely defense and clutch shooting, the Irish opened up their ACC schedule with a gritty win over conference foe Pitt.
In a season that has seen the Irish unable to close out quality opponents in the second half, Notre Dame finally demonstrated some intestinal fortitude against a quality opponent and made just enough plays down the stretch to earn the W.
Saturday marked Notre Dame’s sixth straight overtime victory. The Irish are 14-3 in their last 17 overtime contests, which is a testament to how good the program has been in close games in recent years.
Pitt started off hot from the perimeter and through the first ten minutes, their performance looked like a replay of last year’s matchup. The Irish were able to withstand that early wave and battled back to cut the lead to two at the break.
The second half saw the Irish find their rhythm en route to an eight-point lead, but a Pitt 15-2 run put the Panthers in prime position with three minutes remaining.
Timely defensive stands and clutch shooting from Matt Farrell, Bonzie Colson, and Steve Vasturia allowed the Irish to tie the game and force overtime.
In overtime, the Irish again fell behind, this time by five before a clutch turnaround jumper from Colson and a lay in from Beachem pulled ND to within one.
On the ensuing possession, after a very questionable non-call on Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings after he touched the ball while Steve Vasturia still had a shot at it, Pitt was able to get to the free throw line and hit one of two.
The Irish then got the ball back and Matt Farrell was able to find Vasturia in the corner for the game-winning three.
In Notre Dame’s last game at Pitt, Vasturia missed a similar shot that would have won the game – this time he didn’t miss.
Notching a road conference win is huge any time, but it especially critical with how ND’s ACC schedule is front-loaded.
Saturday’s performance did not quell all concerns for the Irish. While Geben and Gibbs provided strong minutes and Farrell and Colson continues their strong season’s, V.J. Beachem’s poor play continues to perplex.
Through 35 minutes, Vasturia and Beachem were in the midst of another disappearing act. Vasturia woke up and made the timely plays necessary from a senior in a road atmosphere.
Beachem? Not so much.
It is impressive that the Irish have had the success they have had with Beachem’s subpar performances – that’s a testament to role players stepping up – but ND will not be a serious ACC contender if Beachem does not return to the form of last March.
Is the fact that the Irish blew an eight point lead in the second half concerning? Absolutely, it continues the trend we saw against Villanova and Purdue.
However, as mentioned in the preview, the biggest question mark going into the conference slate was their mental toughness and they demonstrated tremendous intestinal fortitude to earn a road win in a hostile atmosphere.