Notre Dame game plan turns again to panic

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Didn’t take long for the game plan to go out the window.

Eighteen-point deficits can change the course of even the mightiest basketball team mid-stream.

Notre Dame was paddling against the current since dipping its toe in the water. Down 13-0 before the popcorn ever popped was a challenge.

Changing on the fly was a fact of survival for the Irish Saturday.

Notre Dame needed an excavator to dig out of the holes that Pitt dug. It never quite happened, but the Irish were close. They came within four points of the Panthers in the first half, and two in the second.

Pitt’s 86-82 victory just emphasized the frustration.

Close, as they say, but no cigar.

“The way we played when we were 18 down is how we should be playing from the beginning,” said Irish guard Demetrius Jackson, who led in scoring with 26. “Going for it, nothing to lose. Being confident, being physical, and just fighting.

“We gave ourselves a chance to win. We just have to be fighting from the start and not put ourselves in such a hole.”

It only took eight minutes for Pitt to take command. The Panthers couldn’t miss – 10 of their first 12 shots fell.

By then, everything the Irish had worked on since their win over Boston College could be forgotten. It was panic time. No need for a patient offense. Go fast. Go hard. And, hope for the best.

“I give Demetrius a lot of credit,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “You abandon any kind of patient offense and you’re ball-screening for him. He’s driving and making plays – either scoring or dishing.

“It changes your style. Having said that, we only turned it over three times and we shot 54 percent. We were scoring the thing, enough.

“But when you’re starting a game and a half (down 18 points), pphhheeeww, those are deep holes.”

Notre Dame played with panic for about 37 of the 40 minutes. A 3-pointer by Sterling Smith at the 17:13 mark of the first half put Pitt up 13-0.

Desperation is the only way to claw back in.

“We shouldn’t have been in that position from the start, but we were,” said Notre Dame’s primary inside presence Zach Auguste. “It was something we had to deal with. We have to take it as men. We have to shut them down and try to fight our way back.

“We changed up a little bit. We had to take the way we play and change it to the way they play. It should have been the other way around. They should have changed the way they play to guard us.”

Michael Young hit 7 of 9 shots in the first half when he had 18 of his 25 points was impossible for anyone to stop. Neither Auguste or Bonzie Colson could contain him.

“We can’t be down by 18 and expect to come out (and compete) with an (Atlantic Coast Conference) team,” said Colson. “It’s going to be hard that way.”

“It’s going to change a lot of people when you’re down by that much,” said Steve Vasturia. “You’re clawing and you’re fighting to get back into the game. It’s definitely not the ideal way to play the game. We have to avoid that.

“We cut it to six at halftime. We’re back into the game. Then, we let them take it to us again. That can’t happen if you want to win the ballgame.”

Still, the Irish came within a missed Matt Ryan 3-pointer with 15 seconds left of sending the game to overtime with a fresh start.

“I don’t know if we deserved that, frankly,” Brey said.

Can’t argue with that.

Panic and desperation don’t fit into a game plan very well.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey coaxes his team late in Saturday's home loss to No. 24 Pittsburgh.SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ