PITTSBURGH — Pitt took on rival No. 19 Notre Dame and stayed competitive through the early part of the fourth quarter, but were unable to keep up late, losing 77-63 at the Petersen Events Center Sunday afternoon.
The Panthers (10-9 overall, 1-7 ACC) fixed mistakes that had hurt them in their previous matchup with the Fighting Irish (14-4 overall, 5-2 ACC), as they trimmed their turnovers down from 27 to 12 in today’s game. Head coach Lance White made note of how his team didn’t perform to their best in the fourth quarter, but was proud of his team’s growth from the last time they played the Fighting Irish to now.
“I think we’re a different basketball team than we were then,” White said. “You think about our rotation and we were just getting Day [Dayshanette Harris] back and you know now, her and Jay [Jayla Everett] our continuity is so much better. But again, we defend so much better. Now than we did then. I think we have really formed our identity is that we have to be a team that pressures and gets after you and uses our athleticism…But that’s gotta be who we are for 40 minutes not 30. It’s still that mentality of just really developing our kids to know that they have to have that mentality start to finish and every time we lace them up they have to be able to go do it.”
Both teams traded baskets to start the game and the score was tied at 8-8. Pitt was able to take a small lead, 14-8, after junior guard Destiny Strother made two 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions.
The Fighting Irish finished the first quarter on a 9-2 run to take a 17-16 lead, thanks to three layups from graduate forward Maya Dodson, sophomore forward Maddy Westbeld and first-year guard Olivia Miles and a 3-pointer from senior guard Dana Mabrey.
Pitt and Notre Dame kept it close to start the second quarter, with Notre Dame taking a 14-10 advantage and a 31-26 lead into the media timeout. Strother scored all 10 points for Pitt, making two more 3-pointers and a mid-range jumper, while Dodson scored seven points to lead Notre Dame.
The Panthers came out of the media timeout to tie the game at 35 after going on a 9-4 run over a two minute period, with sophomore guard Taisha Exanor scoring two layups to lead her team with four points.
The game went into halftime tied at 39, with junior guard Dayshanette Harris scoring four points on two free throws and a layup for Pitt, while first-year guard Sonia Citron made a free throw and a 3-pointer to score four points for Notre Dame.
Strother was a big part of the game for the Panthers in the first half, as she came off the bench and scored 14 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field and perfect 4-for-4 from 3-point range.
“Honestly I don’t know, I was just playing,” Strother said on what she was thinking of her great shooting in the first half. “I just came out ready to play, didn’t have nothing on my mind. I was just playing free…I feel like they [Pitt] found me when I was open and they fed off of me as well.”
As in the first two quarters, both teams were keeping up with each other in terms of scoring, and the Panthers held a 46-45 lead with 6:28 left to go in the third quarter.
The Fighting Irish then took the lead, 54-46, with a 9-0 run as Dodson scored four on two free throws and a layup on the fast break and junior forward Sam Brunelle scored five on a layup and a 3-pointer.
Pitt was able to cut the lead back to three twice later on in the period, but two late baskets by Dodson put Notre Dame up 62-55 heading into the fourth quarter.
A layup each from juniors, forward Amber Brown and center Rita Igbokwe, closed the gap back to three with 7:55 in the fourth quarter for the Panthers.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, they were unable to stay close as the Fighting Irish took control and outscored the Panthers, 15-4, the rest of the game to win 77-63.
Two big parts of the game that hurt the Panthers were in the categories of rebounds and free throw. The Fighting Irish out rebounded them, 44-38, and shot 19-for-20 from the foul line compared to the Panthers’ four-for-nine free throw shooting. The Panthers rank No. 11 in the nation in rebounds per game and rank No. 5 in the nation in free throw attempts per game.
Pitt will travel to take on Clemson Thursday night at 7 p.m. in a matchup of two teams near the bottom of the ACC standings.