The disappointment was evident across Pitt Men’s Basketball coach Jeff Capel’s face discussing a second consecutive ACC contest in which his team lost by one point, this latest defeat coming Wednesday to Notre Dame at the Petersen Events Center.
Up eight points, Pitt set up a play that quickly unraveled and despite a brief recovery, Onyebuchi Ezeakudo lost control of the ball and fell to the floor as Cormac Ryan stole the ball.
On the other end, Notre Dame started to gain some confidence on its three-point shots as Prentiss Hubb sank two deep balls, one of which came after William Jeffress missed a reasonably open look of his own. All of a sudden, what could have been a 10-point lead, was down to two.
“Momentum has shifted,” Capel said. “We can’t afford to have those breakdowns. Did we play well enough to win? We did… but we can’t have those breakdowns against guys that shoot the basketball as well as they did.”
Offensively, it appeared that Pitt was more connected, shooting 45.1% from the field and also limited its turnovers to six, four of those were due to charging fouls.
Capel stated that he felt his team executed and did so with pace, which led to the believe that it could get whatever Pitt wanted. With some perimeter shots falling, the offense appeared to do enough to get an ACC victory.
“It’s tough but you have to move onto the next play,” said Capel. “You have to try to teach, we’re young and have a lot of inexperience at this level. We have to keep showing up every day and get better. We got a good bounce at St. John’s and that didn’t happen tonight. We have to move on.”
THAT MOMENTUM CHANGE
The eight-point Pitt advantage was the largest either side had all evening, and the finish was similar in a lot of ways to the Virginia loss, though Hubb’s heroics in the closing seconds were far more dramatic, and were part of a 6-for-10 performance from deep for Notre Dame in the second half.
“They just started hitting shots, and we weren’t locked in defensively how we should be,” Pitt sophomore forward John Hugley said. “Basically we tried to take away as many three-point shots as we could, try to get them more as drivers. We didn’t want to help too much on drives, because as you could see, they could kick out to the corner for three.”
In the final 7:22 of game action, Notre Dame made all five of its three-point shots, showing why it is ranked 30th in the country with regards to its offensive efficiency.
Capel described Notre Dame as making you pay, specifically when it comes to deep shots and Pitt’s inconsistency with its switches and overhelp in penetration, led to three-point baskets, specifically from the corner.
“They really chased us off the arc until the last five minutes, then we finally got some looks,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “We were just kind of playing, ball screening, driving and kicking. It took 35 minutes to loosen their defense up because they are so athletic.”
AN ‘INTERESTING COMMENT’
Hugley spoke for less than two minutes following the loss, but one remark he made seemed to catch Capel’s ear.
Assessing the loss, Hugley said this defeat hurt but showed Pitt can compete with any team. Capel expressed a firm belief in his team and wants to see the same across the board.
“You have to have the confidence that we are good, and we can win,” he said. “I’ve told our guys I think we can win every game we play. I think we can lose every game we play, that’s the line. We have to understand the things that are necessary for us to win these kinds of games. Then you have to do it every possession, and that’s difficult. That’s why winning is hard at any level, especially in our league.”
Now Capel believes it comes down to teaching and he hopes that his team can put it together and figure it out.
“We’ve been in enough of these where hopefully it starts to seep in where we don’t have the breakdowns,” said Capel. “Not taking anything away from (Notre Dame), but there are some things we could have done a little better to put us in a better position. They got into a rhythm like that, and we couldn’t break it.”