Pitt Laments Off Night Following Loss to Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The look on Pitt guard Nelly Cummings’ face was one of despondency. He knew the Panthers given away a golden opportunity to lock up a double bye in the ACC tournament. Not only that, but they’d spent the final 34 minutes of the game trailing Notre Dame, winless in seven straight contests.
Worse, he knew exactly why the Panthers’ trip to South Bend ended with an 88-81 loss to the Fighting Irish.
“Defensively, we didn’t do what we needed to do,” said Cummings, who tied Jamarius Burton and Nike Sibande for a team-high 19 points. “Because of that, they made shots. We played hard, but we didn’t do what we needed to do.”
Four days shy of a year to the last time the Panthers got blown out of Purcell Pavilion, the teams looked more like they had a year ago. Notre Dame, which has struggled all season, played like a team on a mission from the opening whistle.
Pitt, in contrast, spent the first 30 minutes looking like it would rather be anywhere else.
“I knew they would come out inspired and emotional with them having five seniors and this being the last (home) game for coach (Mike) Brey,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said. “They shot the ball extremely well and they were terrific, so you give them a lot of credit.”
The Irish did deserve credit for making open looks, but the Panthers made life easy on their hosts. Far too often, Pitt made the kinds of mistakes it hasn’t made since November, giving Marcus Hammond and Nate Laszewski far too much room to shoot.
Hammond and Cormac Ryan each scored 20 points, and much of that came because of Pitt defensive lapses. The Irish shot 49.1% from the field, a big jump for a team that has shot 43.2% in ACC play.
“There were some mental mistakes defensively,” Capel said. “There was a lack of communication defensively. We didn’t defend well the whole game, and part of that had to do with us. Part of it was them; they were making shots today and had us chasing them. That was not good for us.”
Even with those defensive lapses, Pitt could have survived had it not let those mistakes spill over to the free throw line. The Panthers got to the stripe more often than the Irish, but they couldn’t cash in their chances. Pitt entered the game ranked third in the ACC in free throw shooting at 77.1%, but Blake Hinson, Nike Sibande and Federiko Federiko all missed four attempts at the stripe.
“There were some things that were uncharacteristic of us (Wednesday), mainly the free throw line,” Capel said. “We’ve been a really good free throw shooting team all year. I don’t know why, but we just didn’t make them.”
And yet, the Panthers still find themselves in a much better position compared to last year. A year ago, Pitt left South Bend looking like a team that just wanted to get the year over with, with a score that reflected what the Panthers had put on the floor all season.
This Pitt team still has many of its goals in front of it. The Panthers have lost back-to-back road games after falling to Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, but this team has still won more away from home more than it has lost. More importantly, the Panthers still have the chance to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament when they visit Miami on Saturday.
“I look at that as an opportunity,” Capel said. “We’re going to play an outstanding basketball team on their home floor, and certainly, we know what’s at stake. We’re excited about the opportunity that we have.”
Perhaps that was why the Panthers were able to brush this game aside as one lost opportunity and nothing more. The look on Cummings’ face made it clear that this loss hurt, but at the same time, the Panthers still had another chance to do the job against the Hurricanes.
“I think we were ready for the game the same way we were ready for every game, but they came out inspired,” Cummings said. “It was just one of those nights.”