The last 17 days for the Notre Dame men’s basketball team have been interesting to say the least. The Fighting Irish are 4-2 in February and have won six of their last eight games. It took 104 points and five overtimes to get by Louisville on Feb. 9 and 51 points to beat Pittsburgh Monday. Notre Dame junior guard Jerian Grant scored 12 points in 29 seconds against the Orange at the end of regulation and the Irish went the first nine minutes and 14 seconds without a field goal against the Panthers.
Sophomore Pat Connaughton hit two 3-pointers that sparked the Irish in the first half against Pitt.
With four Big East Conference games remaining, Notre Dame stands at 21-6 overall and 9-5 in league play. It hasn’t always been pretty, but it’s an impressive accomplishment in head coach Mike Brey’s 13th season in charge.
A Break From The Brawl
Notre Dame took bottles to the head by Syracuse and Providence, but blindsided Louisville, absorbed a shot to the nose by DePaul twice and countered with overtime punches and wrestled Pittsburgh to the ground in the month of February.
Head coach Mike Brey and his boys are happy to see the Big East bar brawl spill outside into the street while the Irish have five days to watch the carnage from the sideline. The Irish don’t play again until Sunday’s afternoon showdown with Cincinnati in a week when six league teams are ranked in the national polls and 10 are among the top 60 in the RPI.
Marquette, Georgetown and Syracuse are all 9-3 and tied for first in the Big East standings, and Marquette has an opportunity tonight to take sole possession of first place at Seton Hall. On Wednesday Syracuse hosts a dangerous Providence squad and Georgetown welcomes a DePaul outfit that is capable of playing spoiler down the stretch against any league opponent. The Orange and Hoyas square off on Saturday in Syracuse for what has the potential to be the biggest conference game of the year. On the same day, Marquette travels to Villanova to face a Wildcats program that has already done plenty of damage in the Big East with back-to-back wins over Louisville and Syracuse at the end of January.
By the time Notre Dame takes the court Sunday, it should have a clear look at the finish line and what will be required to finish in the lead pack.
13 Minutes In Hell
Notre Dame's 19 first-half points were the fewest in a half for the Irish since they tallied 19 in the opening half against Louisville during the semifinals of last season's BIG EAST Championship (3/9/12). The Irish trailed by as many as 16 points (19-3) in the first half and were 1-for-19 from the field to open the game.
With how badly his team was struggling in a critical game against an opponent tied with the Irish in the league standings, sophomore Pat Connaughton hit two of the biggest 3-point baskets of his young career to provide a spark and help cut the deficit to 10 points in a matter of 35 seconds. His back-to-back triples stunned the Panthers and the Irish finished the first half on a 16-3 run to enter the locker room down just 22-19.
In The Pitts
Just as it was a combination of the Panthers’ physical defense and poor shooting by the Irish in the first half that had Notre Dame scrambling, Pittsburgh finished with just 42 points because of a miserable night shooting (16-for-46), which was in part due to Notre Dame’s defensive harassment.
Pittsburgh's 42 points matched the lowest output ever for a Notre Dame opponent in conference play (regular season or tournament). Seton Hall scored 42 in a 55-42 Irish victory last season. It is also the lowest total allowed by Notre Dame against a ranked opponent since a 34-28 overtime loss to No. 4/3 Kentucky on Dec. 29, 1981. Pitt scored 20 points in the second half on 8-for-23 shooting, making it the lowest single half against the Irish since South Florida managed only 19 in the final 20 minutes in last year’s Big East Championship quarterfinals on March 8, 2012. On top of all that, it was the first time a league opponent didn’t make at least one 3-point basket versus the Irish. Pitt finished 0-for-8 from behind the arc.