No overtime magic for Notre Dame men

TOM NOIE
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Lingering near midcourt late Saturday afternoon, Pittsburgh senior power forward Talib Zanna had many reasons to chat and chill in an empty Purcell Pavilion before heading for a jubilant team bus.

This one sure felt good for the visiting guys in blue and gold. Not so for Zanna’s counterparts along the front line, who were nowhere to be found afterward for any explanation.

Zanna and the Panthers did what they do best — relentlessly rebound — and left Notre Dame with too few caroms. The Irish erased a seven-point deficit over the final 6:24 of regulation to force overtime, then watched freshman Steve Vasturia deliver some big minutes and even bigger points — but he wasn’t nearly big enough.

Notre Dame lost, 85-81, on Senior Day for the first time since 2005 — also to Pittsburgh — and lost in overtime for the first time after six successive overtime wins. Shoved further away from a possible trip to the National Invitation Tournament, where a winning record isn’t required to participate but almost is mandatory — Notre Dame dropped to 15-15 overall, 6-11 in the ACC.

“We normally expect when we get to overtime, we get it done, especially in this building,” said Irish senior guard Eric Atkins. “It hurts to go out like that.”

Notre Dame had not lost in overtime at home since Jan, 24, 2006 to Georgetown. That one went to double overtime. It’s the first time the Irish loss after an additional five minutes since early last season in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Saint Joseph’s (Pa.).

Zanna was a question that the Irish had no answer for all afternoon. When it was over, and Pittsburgh (22-7, 10-6) had beaten Notre Dame for the first time since 2009 after five straight losses and six of seven setbacks in the series, Zanna had corralled twice as many offensive rebounds (10) as the entire Irish team (five).

“I just saw that in the locker room,” Zanna said of the stunning stat. “I’ve never had 10 offensive rebounds. I was surprised. I just go every time. It kept falling in my hands. That kind of really helped us.”

Zanna, who finished with 14 rebounds overall, admitted that the relentlessness of him and his teammates on the backboard wore down any Irish who tried to do something, anything, to keep them away from missed shots.

“We kept crashing and they just kind of gave up, and we kept going and attacking the glass, and that’s how we won,” said the 6-foot-9, 230-pound Zanna. “They were kind of tired and giving up. We just kept attacking. We were just going. We just kept grinding.”

Pittsburgh’s 21 offensive rebounds led to 21 second-chance points.

After the Irish lost a sixth home game in a season for the first time since 1998-99, coach Mike Brey was asked why it was so difficult for even one of his bigs in gold to put a body on and compete with the Panthers, who ran away with the all-important rebounding battle, 38-22.

“Ask them,” Brey said.

Couldn’t. Only two Irish — guards Eric Atkins and Steve Vasturia — were made available for postgame interviews.

“Oh, OK,” Brey said. “Well, I’ll tweet something from them later tonight so everybody could get their feedback.”

But seriously ...

“Our perimeter guys were our leading rebounders,” Brey said. “As good as our big guys were Wednesday (in the win over Georgia Tech), it was a tough night for them.

“Just a tough one.”

It was the most lopsided rebounding advantage for an Irish opponent all season.

“They just beat us up,” Atkins said.

The Irish power forward combination of Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman, each playing their final regular-season home game, logged a combined 45 minutes but managed only five rebounds, none on the offensive end. Active and aggressive, Zach Auguste offered four rebounds in 20 minutes.

When the power forwards are good, like they were three days earlier in combining for 31 points and 17 rebounds, Notre Dame has a chance. When they’re not good, neither are the Irish.

The loss wasted a big effort from Vasturia, who scored 15 points with six rebounds, both career highs. He had 12 of the 16 Irish points in the five-minute overtime. Pat Connaughton added 19 points, but had only one basket — a layup — over the final 20 minutes. He also rolled his left ankle and missed four minutes midway through the second half.

He returned but wasn’t a scoring factor.

“He’s gotta be pretty sore,” Brey said. “He battled. He and Vasturia were our best rebounders.”

Connaughton grabbed four.

That the Irish even got this one to an additional five minutes was something. They were seemingly headed for defeat following — what else? — another Pitt tip-in basket, this one by Michael Young. Notre Dame trailed by three with nine seconds remaining before a rebound scramble under the Irish basket saw the ball batted around and tossed into the hands of freshman V.J. Beachem in the corner, by the Irish bench.

Beachem had taken exactly zero shots in three total minutes prior, but quickly set his feet, eyed the rim and let it go.

Swish.

“He wasn’t in there much; we got him there, and he sticks it,” Brey said.

Tie game at 65 with 7.7 seconds remaining.

Pittsburgh had a chance to win it, and seemingly had the dream scenario unfold. Lamar Patterson, its best player, was isolated one-on-one with Vasturia with a straight-line drive there for the taking. But coach Jamie Dixon called timeout with 2.8 seconds remaining.

What???

James Robinson’s fadeaway jumper then bounced off at the buzzer and it was on to overtime.

“I think it was the right play,” Dixon said.

Prior to some serious slippage in the second half that saw a six-point Notre Dame lead become a six-point deficit in less than five minutes, the Irish had played as efficiently as they had all season. Notre Dame twice led by as many as 12 in a first half that saw the home team shoot a ridiculous percentage from the field (73.7 percent on 14-of-19) and from 3 (77.8 on 7-of-9).

Even when Atkins cut a six-point deficit in half with a 3 with 14:21 remaining, the Irish still were shooting 72 percent. But those percentages eventually started dropping when the shots didn’t.

Pittsburgh then found a way. Notre Dame didn’t.

“For us, it’s always rebounding,” Dixon said. “For a team that puts shooters out there, you’ve got to hurt them in other ways, and that’s what we did.”

Did they ever.

PITTSBURGH (22-7): Michael Young 3-6 6-6 13, Talib Zanna 6-10 5-6 17, James Robinson 1-8 4-4 7, Cameron Wright 7-15 1-2 15, Lamar Patterson 6-17 7-8 20, Jamel Artis 0-1 0-0 0, Derrick Randall 2-2 1-2 5, Chris Jones 0-2 0-0 0, Josh Newkirk 3-4 0-0 8. Totals 28-65 24-28 85.

NOTRE DAME (15-15): Tom Knight 1-1 0-0 2, Garrick Sherman 3-5 0-0 6, Eric Atkins 5-11 5-8 17, Pat Connaughton 7-10 1-1 19, Steve Vasturia 3-7 6-6 15, V.J. Beachem 1-1 0-0 3, Austin Burgett 1-3 5-6 8, Demetrius Jackson 1-2 2-2 5, Zach Auguste 1-2 4-4 6. Totals 23-42 23-27 81.

Halftime — Notre Dame 39-35. End Of Regulation — Tied 65. 3-Point Goals — Pittsburgh 5-15 (Newkirk 2-2, Young 1-1, Robinson 1-3, Patterson 1-7, Wright 0-1, Jones 0-1), Notre Dame 12-23 (Connaughton 4-6, Vasturia 3-6, Atkins 2-5, Beachem 1-1, Jackson 1-2, Burgett 1-3). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Pittsburgh 38 (Zanna 14), Notre Dame 22 (Vasturia 6). Assists — Pittsburgh 15 (Patterson 7), Notre Dame 14 (Atkins 9). Total Fouls — Pittsburgh 17, Notre Dame 23. A — 9,149.

TNoie@SBTinfo.com 574-235-6153 Twitter: TNoie@NDInsider

Pittsburgh guard Lamar Patterson, right, looks to pass around Notre Dame guard Pat Connaughton in the first half of Saturday's game. (AP Photo/JOE RAYMOND)

PITTSBURGH (22-7): Michael Young 3-6 6-6 13, Talib Zanna 6-10 5-6 17, James Robinson 1-8 4-4 7, Cameron Wright 7-15 1-2 15, Lamar Patterson 6-17 7-8 20, Jamel Artis 0-1 0-0 0, Derrick Randall 2-2 1-2 5, Chris Jones 0-2 0-0 0, Josh Newkirk 3-4 0-0 8. Totals 28-65 24-28 85.

NOTRE DAME (15-15): Tom Knight 1-1 0-0 2, Garrick Sherman 3-5 0-0 6, Eric Atkins 5-11 5-8 17, Pat Connaughton 7-10 1-1 19, Steve Vasturia 3-7 6-6 15, V.J. Beachem 1-1 0-0 3, Austin Burgett 1-3 5-6 8, Demetrius Jackson 1-2 2-2 5, Zach Auguste 1-2 4-4 6. Totals 23-42 23-27 81.

Halftime Notre Dame 39-35. End Of Regulation Tied 65. 3-Point Goals Pittsburgh 5-15 (Newkirk 2-2, Young 1-1, Robinson 1-3, Patterson 1-7, Wright 0-1, Jones 0-1), Notre Dame 12-23 (Connaughton 4-6, Vasturia 3-6, Atkins 2-5, Beachem 1-1, Jackson 1-2, Burgett 1-3). Fouled Out None. Rebounds Pittsburgh 38 (Zanna 14), Notre Dame 22 (Vasturia 6). Assists Pittsburgh 15 (Patterson 7), Notre Dame 14 (Atkins 9). Total Fouls Pittsburgh 17, Notre Dame 23. A 9,149.