SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The 3-point shooting disparity told most of the story of Pittsburgh’s 78-54 loss to Notre Dame.
Pitt shot 11.5 percent from behind the arc on Saturday, hitting just 3 of 26 shots from 3-point range. The Fighting Irish sank 14 of them, with Cormac Ryan and Nate Laszewski combining to shoot 8-for-10 from behind the arc. With Pitt big man John Hugley limited in the first half with foul trouble, the Panthers had little ability to respond, concluding their regular season with a one-sided loss on Saturday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion.
“They were outstanding shooting the basketball (Saturday), and we knew that was a strength of their team coming in,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said. “Fourteen 3’s and 56% from the floor, and a lot of that was their shooting, but some of that was our defense. We didn’t play as well and had the early foul trouble.”
The Panthers (11-20, 6-14 ACC) found themselves lost too often in trying to defend the Fighting Irish (22-9, 15-5), who played a patient style and waited for the open look to come. Notre Dame finished the game with 21 assists, often leaving Pitt’s defense a step behind.
Laszewski did the most damage with 17 points, while Ryan added 15 and three other Notre Dame players scored in double figures.
“It’s really gratifying to watch this team keep sharing the ball and continually being unselfish and making the extra pass,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “That’s why we can dream big dreams, because it’s all there for us starting on Thursday.”
While the Fighting Irish locked down the No. 2 seed in the ACC tournament, Pitt hurt its cause by starting off cold from the field and never really getting into a rhythm. The Panthers made their first shot of the game on a Hugley layup, but then proceeded to miss 13 of their next 15 looks, including all five attempts from behind the arc.
Things never got any better for the Panthers, who didn’t hit a 3-pointer until Ithiel Horton’s shot with four minutes left in the first half, Pitt’s only deep shot in the opening 20 minutes. By that time, the Panthers had already missed 10 attempts from 3-point range.
“Some of that was their defense, but we just missed shots,” Capel said. “We got looks that were open, but we missed shots.”
The only reason that things didn’t get completely out of hand in the first half was because while the Fighting Irish made the majority of their first-half shots, they didn’t take all that many. The Panthers had five offensive rebounds and forced seven Notre Dame turnovers, allowing Capel to wait to bring Hugley, Noah Collier and Jamarius Burton back until the second half after each picked up two fouls.
But when the teams returned to the court, the Irish’s long-range assault continued. Notre Dame started the second half with a 12-2 run in the opening three minutes, and the Panthers never again got closer than 16 points.
“The game was in striking distance at 10, and they only had 31 points at the half,” Capel said. “The problem was we didn’t shoot the ball well. We went 1-for-13 from 3 with some wide-open looks, we went 29 percent from the floor and probably missed three layups right in front of the basket.”
When he was on the floor, Hugley was effective, scoring 13 points and tying Mouhamadou Gueye for the team lead in scoring. But by the time he was able to really get going, the Fighting Irish had built their cushion too large for it to affect the outcome.
The one bit of good news for the Panthers on Saturday was that Louisville and Boston College both lost as well, meaning Pitt didn’t drop out of the No. 12 seed in the ACC tournament. The Panthers will open the tournament on Tuesday against the Eagles at 2 p.m. in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Otherwise, it’s far from an ideal way for the Panthers to head into postseason play. Pitt enters the ACC tournament having lost four straight, with the past three all coming by more than 20 points.
“After any loss, it’s frustrating, but right now, we’ve got to move on to the next game,” Gueye said. “This season has ended, and we’ve got the ACC tournament to look forward to next week.
“As far as we look at it, it’s 0-0. We’ve just got to come together right now.”