- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The ball went up, a wide-open look from the corner, and Notre Dame coach Mike Brey considered celebrating.

“The way we’ve been winning, I’m thinking we may steal another one,” Brey said.

Clang.

Steve Vasturia’s 3-pointer smacked off the rim with 6 seconds left, Pittsburgh’s Jamel Artis grabbed the rebound and the Panthers held on for a 76-72 upset on Saturday. The eighth-ranked Irish saw their five-game winning streak end despite some gritty play late by star guard Jerian Grant, who scored nine straight to turn an eight-point deficit into a 72-71 lead on a pair of free throws with 31 seconds left.

Needing one stop to improve to 5-0 on the road in conference play for the first time ever, Notre Dame (20-3, 8-2) couldn’t quite get it done. The Panthers put the ball in the hands of Robinson, who sliced into the lane and hit a difficult runner with 12 seconds to go.

“If you were going to steal it, you had to steal it after Jerian’s free throw,” Brey said. “When Robinson hit the runner it’s almost like you don’t deserve it.”

Brey hardly seemed discouraged following a difficult and emotional stretch. Notre Dame needed overtime to win at N.C. State last Sunday and put together a spirited rally to topple No. 4 Notre Dame on Wednesday. Forced to dig deep for the third time in seven days, The Irish nearly did it until Robinson created just enough space to give the Panthers the marquee win they desperately needed.

The coach challenged his team after knocking off the Blue Devils that a victory at the Petersen Events Center would stamp the Irish as a special team. While Brey allowed “we’re not there yet” the Irish certainly look close.

“Our games have been very exhausting,” he said.

Pitt took advantage by shooting a season-high 58 percent. Robinson finished with 14 points and 10 assists for his first career double-double. Jamel Artis led the Panthers (14-8, 4-5 ACC) with 19 points. Michael Young added 16 points and Cameron Wright chipped in 14 points as the Panthers improved to 14-3 all-time against Top 10 teams at the Petersen Events Center.

“They’re an NCAA team,” Brey said.

Maybe, but there’s no doubt about Notre Dame’s postseason destination.

Pitt, desperately needing a marquee win to kickstart a sagging season, hung with the Irish early then got tough late. The game was tied at 63 when Chris Jones made a lay-up to put the Panthers up. Cameron Wright followed with an emphatic block on Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson, leading to an Artis basket. Michael Young followed with two free throws and Pitt seemed to be in control up eight.

The Irish, however, responded behind Grant. The senior guard had just five points in the first 36 minutes before putting Notre Dame in front on four free throws, a runner and a 3-pointer.

It wasn’t enough, however, for the Irish to improve to 5-0 on the road in conference play for the first time ever. Jackson led the Irish with 15 points. Vasturia had 12 and Zach Auguste added 12 points and six boards.

WHERE’S THE D?

Pitt’s 24 assists were a season-high and the Panthers shot nearly 20 percent above what the Irish had been allowing on the season.

“We know they’re a team that wants to get to the basket,” Brey said. “They really don’t want to shoot jump shots. They don’t want to shoot 3-point shots yet they were still physically able to get in (the lane) on us.”

HELD IN CHECK

Grant appeared in danger of being held to a season-low when he had just five points with 4 minutes to play before his late outburst nearly helped the Irish escape. Grant added three assists and four steals in 39 minutes but also turned it over three times.

“If you told me we’d hold him to three assists and 14 points, we’d be happy,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We wanted him to take jump shots.”

TIP-INS

Notre Dame: The Irish are 16-2 in their last 18 games. … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 31-29 but saw its two-game streak at the Petersen Events Center end. … The Irish went more than five minutes without a field goal in the second half.

Pitt: The Panthers gave sixth-man Newkirk his first start of the season. Newkirk finished with six points and four assists against just one turnover. … Pitt’s three-game losing streak was its longest since an eight-game slide in 2011-12.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame hosts Boston College on Wednesday.

Pitt hosts Bryant on Monday.


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