Pitt stuns No. 8 Notre Dame with late basket by Robinson


James Robinson fell in the first half of a game that officials cancelled. Pitt News File Photo

After playing arguably its worst game of the season against Virginia Tech last time out, the Pitt men’s basketball team responded with its best.

Hosting No. 8 Notre Dame at Petersen Events Center on Saturday afternoon,  the Panthers used a balanced scoring attack to nullify the visitors’ potent offense and secure their first win over a ranked opponent this season, 76-72, ending a three-game losing streak in the process.  

Four players finished with double digits points and the team shot 58.5 percent from the field.

“This game right here was the season,” Pitt sophomore Jamel Artis, who scored a game-high 20, said. “We had to get this win.”

Towards the end of regulation, it appeared Pitt (14-8, 4-5 ACC), despite its best efforts, might come up short.

Leading by eight with 3:05 to go, its advantage evaporated, due to ND’s Jerian Grant– held to just five points up to that point– who went on an 9-0 scoring run by himself to give his team a 72-71 lead with 31 seconds remaining.

He finished with 14.

But Pitt’s James Robinson, his former high school teammate, had the last say, making a shot, a steal and a free throw to put it away. He collected his first career double-double, scoring 15 points and compiling 10 assists.

“He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said of his junior point guard.

Notre Dame’s Steve Vasturia missed a 3-pointer with the opportunity to take the lead with six seconds to go before two free throws by Artis and the one by Robinson sealed the result.

To start the game,  Pitt couldn’t slow the Fighting Irish (20-3, 8-2 ACC) who entered the contest ranked highly in numerous offensive categories, notably 3-pointers made per game, 3-point percentage, and field goal percentage.

While the Irish shot 56 percent from the field in the opening period,  Pitt’s offense had nearly as much success, making 51 percent of its opportunities from the field and 50 percent from behind the arc, which allowed it to briefly retake control before falling behind again.

The Panthers still managed to close the deficit to one, 38-37,  by halftime after trailing by as many as seven.

Redshirt senior Cameron Wright led all scorers at the break with 10 points  and finished with 14 on 7-9 shooting.

“When you see the ball go through the net, you get excited. The crowd’s going especially at home,” Wright said. “It’s a remarkable feeling. it just provides us another spark to get back on defense and get it back again.”

Once play restarted,  though, neither team could build and sustain a lead larger than five. There were seven lead changes and as many ties in the second half.

But following a jumper by Chris Jones with 5:08 left, the Panthers began to build the largest lead either team had during the contest.

“The guys came out and played with confidence,” Dixon said. ”And that’s why they made the plays down the stretch.”

Sophomore Michael Young, who finished the game with 16 points, feels that the team can and should build on its performance going forward.  

“We’ve been struggling throughout the ACC, having some ups and some downs, but I think this one can really get us going,” Young said. “This will get us started and get us going.”

Pitt welcomes non-conference opponent Bryant University on Monday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.