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Upset Special: Pitt women beat Notre Dame in ACC tournament

Pitt forward Amber Brown plays in the ACC tournament against Notre Dame on March 4, 2020. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

Upset Special: Pitt women beat Notre Dame in ACC tournament

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Pitt’s women’s basketball team put on arguably its best performance of the season Wednesday.

Ismini Prappa and Gabbie Green drained three-pointers in bunches, and did so sometimes from Stephen Curry-range. Dayshanette Harris steered the offense, and Rita Igbokwe and Amber Brown provided timely defense in the paint and along the perimeter.

Believe it or not, all of that was enough to power the Panthers to a first-round upset over Notre Dame. For just the second time ever, Pitt won an ACC tournament game, beating the Fighting Irish 67-65 Wednesday afternoon at the historic Greensboro Coliseum.

It’s the first ACC tournament win for second-year Pitt head coach Lance White, and it’s the first time Pitt has beaten Notre Dame in over a decade, last doing so on Feb. 3, 2009.

For White, it’s a landmark victory that his program can be built on, and a reward for all the work his staff and players have put in for the past two seasons. Pitt will try to pull off another upset Thursday night, taking on No. 7 seed Georgia Tech at 6 p.m. ET.

“This is the result of their hard work and that growth, and so whenever they are finally able to see it and get to experience it, I’m pleased and excited for them to have that opportunity,” White said. “It’s a huge win for our program, getting to play in March and we get to survive and play another day. I’m excited about that.”

Entering the old coliseum on Wednesday, it was hard to believe that Pitt (5-25; 2-17 ACC) would play well enough to beat Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish (13-18; 8-11 ACC) aren’t having a good season and are less than a shell of the team that made the national championship game a year ago.

Still, this is a team coached by the legendary Muffet McGraw. In six years in the ACC, her teams were 17-1 in this tournament. Her teams had been to the NCAA tournament 24 seasons in a row. And they were armed with three All-ACC Freshmen Team selections and one All-ACC honorable mention in Destinee Walker.

But Pitt had nothing to lose. The Panthers had lost nine straight games. For them, a trip to Greensboro was a reset. They were beginning a new season.

The game didn’t start out well for the Panthers though, as Notre Dame began it on an 11-3 run. But slowly, Pitt began to chip away at that lead. By the 5:37 mark in the second quarter, the Panthers had a one-point lead. By halftime, Pitt was still leading.

Pitt’s late surge in the first half was mostly due to Prappa, a sophomore from Athens, Greece. She came off the bench and sank each of her four three-point attempts, heading into halftime as the team’s leading scorer with 12 points.

Prappa also had three assists and provided stout defense until she fouled out late in the game.

“Ismini came in and provided us with a huge boost in the first half and calmed us down and made some big shots. The way she guarded (Irish point guard Marta Sniezek) and did a great job of helping and playing off of her and allowing us to get back in the game,” White said. “She really helped give us the confidence we needed down the stretch. She was huge throughout the game.”

In the locker room after the contest, Prappa was rocking a necklace that had the words “BIG DAWG” hanging from it, given out after each Pitt game to the player who stepped up in crucial moments.

“I just kept moving. My teammates found me,” Prappa said. “And I was ready to shoot it.”

In the second half, Harris and Green grabbed the scoring reins for Pitt and the Panthers went on to lead by as many as eight points in the third quarter. Green finished the game with 14 points and two assists.

Defense was also key for the Panthers as they held their lead over Notre Dame. To stifle Sam Brunelle, the top freshman scorer in the conference this season, Pitt had Amber Brown act as her shadow. The result saw Brunelle score just 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting and turn the ball over four times. She had been averaging 20.7 points per-game over her last four contests.

“The thing was, I wasn’t going to help off. We were just going to create a tandem,” Brown said. “I was on Sam, making sure Sam doesn’t get hot.”

Notre Dame surged back, thanks to 10 fourth quarter points from freshman Katlyn Gilbert. She finished with 20 points and six rebounds.

With 21 seconds to play, the game was tied and Pitt had the ball.

The rock came into the possession of Harris — Pitt’s lone All-ACC Freshmen Team selection — and seconds started ticking away. The 5-foot-7 native of Youngstown, Ohio took a few dribbles on the right wing, and then the double team came. Harris dribbled hard, sprinted out of it, drove baseline and lofted up a floater. With 2.6 seconds left, it sank. And then she stole the Notre Dame inbounds pass, sealing the win in an emphatic way.

“Coach set up a play and he told me if I don’t see anything, stay calm and do what I do,” Harris said. “And with my teammates clearing out for me I was able to get to the bucket — a God-blessed bucket.”

Harris finished with the game with 20 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and three steals.

And she gave Pitt women’s basketball fans a glimpse into the future of this program, and a historic upset they’ll be able to cherish for awhile.

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