SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP)Marcus Hammond and Cormac Ryan each scored 20 points as Notre Dame won longtime coach Mike Brey’s final home game with an 88-81 victory over No. 25 Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.
Nate Laszewski and Trey Wertz each added 14 points as the Fighting Irish (11-19, 3-16 Atlantic Coast Conference) snapped a seven-game losing streak.
Brey, who is stepping down at season’s end and received warm ovations from the crowd before and after the game, improved to 315-76 at Purcell Pavilion over 23 years as Notre Dame coach.
“What an unbelievable night,” Brey said over the public address. “We defended pretty much the whole game. I thought we were good defensively. … It was neat for our seniors to finish like that.”
Jamarius Burton, Nelly Cummings and Nike Sibande all scored 19 points, and Blake Hinson added 15 points and 13 rebounds, for the Panthers (21-9, 14-5), who entered with wins in eight of their last nine games. Pitt was playing its first game since moving into the AP Top 25 for the first time in seven years.
“First and foremost, congrats to Notre Dame,” Panther coach Jeff Capel said. “They were terrific. I knew they would come out and be really inspired and emotional (with five grad players in their starting lineup), and obviously being the last game here for Coach Brey.”
Pitt, the conference leader going in, had a chance to clinch at least a tie for its first ACC title across its 10 years in the league, but struggled with its shooting.
The Panthers finished 7 of 22 on 3-pointers and 20 of 36 at the line, while the Irish closed 10 of 27 and 26 of 31. “There’s a lot of things we didn’t do well,” Capel said, “but I love the fight that we had.”
Notre Dame led by a high of 61-41 at 11:49 remaining, after scoring the final 11 points of the first half for a 42-28 advantage at the break. Late-rallying Pitt got no closer than 84-79 at 38 seconds remaining.
BIG PICTURE Pittsburgh: While the Panthers appear safely into the NCAA Tournament field, their 2-2 mark over their last four games while facing entirely sub-.500 ACC teams won’t help their seeding. They can still trend back up with a win at Miami or an extended league tourney run.
Notre Dame: While the win was sweet for the Irish, barring a miracle title in next week’s ACC Tournament and thus the league’s automatic NCAA Tourney bid, they’ll be turning their full attention toward hiring Brey’s successor.
BREY-KING AWAY Brey had declared Tuesday that he would be heading over to the Linebacker, an iconic bar just off the Notre Dame campus, immediately after Wednesday’s game and that all others were welcome as well. “I gotta get over to the Linebacker,” Brey said to start his postgame radio interview over the PA while doubling down on his Tuesday intentions. True to his word the coach went to the bar. Brey said he had never been in the bar in all his 23 years at Notre Dame and thought this would be a fitting time. The PA interview lasted just three minutes and he did not conduct a postgame press conference.
CAPEL CIRCLES BACK Capel was asked if this was an emotional night for him as well. The first two years of his playing career at Duke, beginning in 1993, were also the final two years of Brey’s time as an assistant with the Blue Devils. Brey has described Capel as “like a son.” “Certainly I love Coach Brey, Capel said. “He’s been a big part of my life since I was about 17 years old.” Added Capel, “We were excited about the opportunity to play them in Coach Brey’s final home game here (given) how much he’s put into this program.”
UP NEXT Pittsburgh: At least a share of the ACC regular-season title goes to the winner when the Panthers visit No. 16 Miami (23-6, 14-5) in Saturday night’s league finale. No. 13 Virginia (22-6, 14-5) remains in the mix as well and hosts last-place Louisville (4-26, 2-17) Saturday.
Notre Dame: The Irish conclude their regular season Saturday at Clemson (21-9, 13-6), where the Tigers may need a win to assure a top-four finish in the ACC and a double bye in next week’s league tourney.