Notre Dame saved its best for head coach Mike Brey's last home game as the Fighting Irish held off a rally to earn an 88-81 Atlantic Coast Conference victory over No. 25 Pittsburgh Wednesday night in South Bend, Ind.
The Fighting Irish (11-19, 3-16 ACC) snapped a seven-game losing streak as graduate students Marcus Hammond and Cormac Ryan led the way with 20 points apiece. Fellow grad students Nate Laszewski (14 points), Trey Wertz (14 points) and Dane Goodwin (12 points) also hit double figures in their final home game.
Pittsburgh (21-9, 14-5) cut a 20-point second-half deficit to five, but missed a chance to clinch a share of its first conference title since the 2010-11 Big East season as the Panthers canned just 20 of 36 free throws and 7 of 22 3-pointers. Nike Sibande, Nelly Cummings and Jamarius Burton scored 19 points apiece while Blake Hinson added 15 points and 13 rebounds in the school's first game as an AP Top 25 team since Jan. 16, 2016.
Now the ACC regular-season champion will be determined Saturday night when Pittsburgh travels to face No. 16 Miami (23-6, 14-5) -- though No. 13 Virginia (22-6, 14-5) will gain a share of the crown with a win Saturday versus Louisville.
Notre Dame was hot virtually from start to finish to enable Brey to earn his 483rd win during his 23 seasons at the helm.
Pittsburgh managed just two brief early leads -- at 4-2 and 7-5 -- as Ryan jumped to a quick start with nine points in the opening 4:06. Ryan, one of the six graduate students playing his final home game, nailed two 3-pointers and all three free throws when fouled beyond the arc to stake the Irish to a 15-9 lead.
The Panthers regained a 16-15 lead on Sibande's 3-pointer, but Hammond picked up where Ryan left off. Hammond's step-back trey with 3:29 left in the first half -- his third 3-pointer -- triggered an 11-0 run to close out the half that gave Notre Dame a 42-28 lead at the break.
Notre Dame stayed hot at the second half's outset. When Ryan swiped a Cummings pass and raced down for a two-handed slam, the Fighting Irish seized the game's biggest lead at 53-36 with 15:48 to play.
The lead stood at 58-41 when Pitt's frustrations boiled over. Irked by the lack of a foul call on the Panthers' previous possession, head coach Jeff Capel picked up a technical at the 11:49 mark when Sibande and Hinson were whistled for personals on Notre Dame's subsequent possession.
Three free throws pushed Notre Dame's lead to 20. While Pittsburgh started earning more foul calls, the Panthers couldn't cut their deficit to single digits until Cummings hit a 3-pointer from the wing to make it 80-72 with 1:14 left.
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