College Hoops Monday Recap: Irish Win in Pittsburgh

January 25th, 2011
The return of the "burn" paid dividends for Mike Brey's Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Monday night, with a style of play that got them to the NCAA Tournament making the difference in a 56-51 win at #2 Pittsburgh. Ben Hansbrough led the Irish with 19 points, 13 of which came in the final nine minutes of the game, while Carleton Scott added 16 and Scott Martin 10. This marks the third time in which Notre Dame has used the "burn" style of play, which bleeds the shot clock before Notre Dame attempts a shot, to knock off the Panthers with the last meeting before Monday night coming in last year's Big East Tournament. Gilbert Brown led Pitt with 13 points while Brad Wanamaker added 12, but with Ashton Gibbs not shooting his best from the field (4-for-13) and the Panthers as a whole shooting 40% from two was too much to overcome late in the game when they needed baskets.

"We haven't been very good on the road to date," said Coach Brey after the game. "We tried to meet the home team's competitive energy and I thought we did that. We certainly executed our game plan of burning clock and executing at the end of a clock. I think what won the game for us, though, was that we defended and rebounded defensively in the last five minutes to escape."

The win is the first true road victory for the Irish, who lost each of their three prior Big East road games by at least 12 points. And as Coach Brey noted after the game their defense and rebounding in the final minutes proved to be the difference for the Irish. Scott's return has made Notre Dame a better basketball team given his versatility and ability to impact the game in a number of areas. But it was Hansbrough and the use of the ball screen that produced enough points for the Irish. On a number of those plays Pitt would switch, with the goal being to limit the number of pick & pop situations for Scott Martin. But that would match up Hansbrough with a big man, and when a guard gets a hold of an interior player who isn't as used to guarding on the perimeter they're likely going to score.

"This is the first time we have committed to an all-out burn," said Hansbrough. "We beat Pitt two times doing it last year. I think this is one of the toughest places to play in the country and to come in here and get a win really says something- not only of Coach Brey strategizing, but of our unit."

The last two games the Irish have succeeded in contests with a number of possessions far below their season average of 66 possessions per game (just 47 on Monday, and 56 in Saturday's win over Marquette). While the need for the "burn" isn't as urgent as it was during last season's run with Luke Harangody hampered by injury, it's good to find out that you can win games in multiple ways. And the pace allowed Notre Dame to better manage a quiet night from Tim Abromaitis (two points), and while the senior didn't produce much offensively it's a safe bet that he'll have few games like this one the remainder of the season. Pittsburgh is fine despite the loss, and the victory for Notre Dame means quite a bit in regards to both the Big East standings and possible NCAA Tournament seeding. (quotes courtesy of Pittsburgh Athletics)

Other Notable Happenings

1. Kansas State beats Baylor in a battle of two teams that may not be very good right now.
Frank Martin's Wildcats missed a plethora of easy shots in the first half yet still went into the locker room up 25-18 at the half. That first half underlined the cold reality for both Kansas State and Baylor, despite the Wildcats picking up a 69-61 victory at Bramlage Coliseum: neither of these teams has much to worry about right now in regards to getting back into Big 12 title contention. Both teams are looking to navigate the season without key seniors from last season's teams: Baylor's Tweety Carter and K-State's Denis Clemente. Baylor turned the ball over 17 times on the night, and their turnover percentage (25.8%) exceeded their average of 23% on the year. Jacob Pullen and Will Spradling scored 17 points apiece to lead the Wildcats, and of the two teams they seem to be a little further along in regards to finding the production needed to account for Clemente's graduation as the season wears on. Spradling may have finished with just one assist but he didn't turn the ball over once, while Baylor's A.J. Walton finished with five turnovers before fouling out and playing just 22 minutes. That fact likely cements K-State as the team right now in better shape despite having the poorer league record. If you can't take care of the basketball at the point you're in trouble, something that Scott Drew's team learned once again in Manhattan.

2. Hofstra and VCU win to set up a showdown for first place on Thursday.
While VCU received more of a challenge than expected by many from now 0-9 in conference play Towson, Hofstra was caught in a dogfight with James Madison in Hempstead. The Pride trailed by as many as 15 in the second half before senior Charles Jenkins led the charge back. Jenkins, who has to be considered to be one of the premier guards in the county, led the way with 35 points while four other players reached double figures as Hofstra won 92-90 despite trailing for much of the second half. IN VCU's 80-76 win at Towson point guard Joey Rodriguez played well, finishing with 28 points on 9-for-14 shooting while three other Rams scored 11 points apiece. These results set up Thursday night's game in Richmond between the Pride and VCU, in what's the lone regular season meeting between the two. As Monday's results showed both have little trouble scoring, meaning that both will need to bring their best defense to the table. And while these two are atop the CAA right now, both teams likely understand how good the league is at the top and how tough winning the automatic will be.

3. West Virginia guard Casey Mitchell suspended indefinitely.
Another day and another personnel blow for the Mountaineers, this one coming in the form of an indefinite suspension incurred by guard Casey Mitchell. Combining that with Dan Jennings' "I've had enough" actions West Virginia is down to just eight scholarship players going into Wednesday night's tilt at Louisville, and given how fast Rick Pitino wants his team to play that's a scary prospect if you're a fan of West Virginia. The question for Bob Huggins' club is where the leadership is going to come from. Earlier this season Jennings and Truck Bryant were benched for a game due to their behavior and there have been moments in which the call for a leader has not been answered. While the Mountaineers look to be a safe bet right now to get into the NCAA Tournament you never know, especially when dealing a league like the Big East where one loss can nosedive into a nasty streak if a team isn't careful. What happens next with West Virginia will be something to keep an eye on, beginning with Wednesday night.

Top Three Games

1. Hofstra 92, James Madison 90 (OT)

2. Furman 73, Wofford 68 (OT) The Paladins received 22 points and six rebounds from Amu Saaka as they knocked off defending Southern Conference champion Wofford in Spartanburg. Noah Dahlman led the Terriers with 24 points, but Wofford made just one of ten shots from field in overtime. The win pulls the Paladins into a tie with Wofford for second place in the South Division.

3. (14) Notre Dame 56, (2) Pittsburgh 51

Three Notable Performances

1. G Charles Jenkins (Hofstra) 35 points, five assists, three rebounds, three blocks and two steals in Hofstra's 92-90 overtime win over James Madison.

2. F Kyle O'Quinn (Norfolk State) 26 points (11-15 FG), 13 rebounds, three assists and three blocks in the Spartans' 84-61 win over South Carolina State.

3. F Frank Hassell (Old Dominion) 25 points and 13 rebounds in the Monarchs' 58-43 win over UNC Wilmington.