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Pitt holds off Notre Dame for 86-82 win

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt played on the road against an opponent that shot 54% from the field, made 9-20 three-pointers, and had less than half the amount of turnovers that the Panthers did. Had you told me that beforehand, I would have guessed that Pitt had fallen short against Notre Dame. Instead, the Panthers pulled out an 86-82 win to move to 14-1 on the year behind big games from forwards Michael Young, Jamel Artis, and Sheldon Jeter.

Even more remarkable than those numbers is that Pitt was up big early, holding an 18-point first-half lead. But a 12-5 Notre Dame run behind four consecutive three-pointers by Demetrius Jackson, who finished with 26 for the Irish. They kept chipping away and after a hot start, Pitt just went cold, making only two field goals in the last six plus minutes. That cut Pitt's lead to only six at halftime and officially made it a game.

A 23-11 run to open the second half gave Pitt its second 18-point lead, but like the first, it wasn't insurmountable. The Panthers again went cold from the field, and made only two field goals in the final ten plus minutes of the game, which allowed the Irish to close the gap again. It was a two- to four-point game for most of the final few minutes.

So how did Pitt win it? Ultimately, it was free throws. Pitt was an incredible 20-24 at the line and made them when they counted, connecting on nine of their final ten attempts.

We've made a big deal out of the Panthers' ability to shoot free throws as they lead the nation in that department. Earlier this season, though, there weren't many times when things came down to the wire. I said before that the free throw shooting was something that could really benefit them in close games and that's what happened here. The free throws are going to be a much bigger factor in the conference games and as Pitt keeps making them, that will give them a decided edge.

Blowing the leads was extremely frustrating to watch and Pitt was either really hot or really cold today, suffering some long stretches of missed field goals. I hesitate to say the defense wasn't there because it seemed the Irish just made a ton of big shots that were often contested pretty well. One of the three-pointers that Jackson made was just unbelievable as he was a good six or seven feet beyond the three-point line. The defense surely could have been better but I also think some of what we saw was just Notre Dame knocking down shots.

Young had 25 points and was, as he has often been this year, the best player on the court. He was unstoppable early on, scoring 14 of those in the first seven minutes. Young also came up big down the stretch, hitting three of four free throws to help seal the game. Artis added 19 but was nearly invisible in the second half on offense, scoring only three on 1-4 shooting in the final 20 minutes.

Young and Artis both had great games, but Jeter was the biggest star for the Panthers in the second half. 14 of his 18 points, including all of his field goals, came after the break and the forward logged 27 minutes. Pitt is turning to him more and more and all the guy does is respond. Pitt has a very unique situation with him coming off the bench with Young and Artis fixtures in the starting lineup, but they are finding minutes for him and he's producing.

It's an interesting issue for Pitt. The Panthers desperately wanted a center in the offseason to move Young to power forward and they filled that hole with transfers Rafael Maia and Alonzo Nelson-Ododa. Some might argue that Pitt would be better off moving Young back to center and getting Jeter into the starting lineup but the reality is that he's getting plenty of minutes off the bench and the centers (Maia, in particular) provide some much-needed rebounding and defense. Despite the breakout year of sorts by Jeter, I continue to believe that head coach Jamie Dixon is playing this correctly.

Notre Dame may end up being a bit down this year, but this is still a very nice win for Pitt. Nearly blowing two huge leads isn't ideal, but the fact remains that Pitt still beat a team on the road that shot very well and took care of the ball. That doesn't happen all of the time and is another testament to this team's explosive offense and ability to close out games. Pitt has two big road games with this one and Louisville next week. To know they won at least one of those is great to see.

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