Irish lose regular season finale at home

Published 6:08 pm Monday, March 7, 2005

By By ADAM PAYNE / Niles Daily Star
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame closed out its regular season on a down note Saturday, falling to the Pittsburgh Panthers, 85-77.
Pittsburgh took the early lead, going up 4-0 on a dunk by sophomore forward Chris Taft, but the Irish would answer with a quick 9-0 run to take a 9-4 lead five minutes into the game.
Taft put a stop to Notre Dame's surge with another dunk and gave Pitt the lead back 10-9 with a lay-up at the 13:52 mark.
Irish sophomore guard Colin Falls then hit his second three of the game after missing his first attempt, but Taft tied it at 12 with another lay-up.
With under seven minutes to play, Senior Chris Thomas missed a three and Senior Jordan Cornette collected Notre Dame's only offensive rebound of the half, tapping it to Falls who nailed his fourth three to tie it at 24.
This was part of a 14-0 Irish run that turned a five point deficit into a nine-point lead at 33-24 with four minutes remaining in the half.
Falls would end up hitting his last six three-point attempts of the half for 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor and 6-for-7 from behind the arc.
Junior forward Torin Francis also had a very good half, with seven points and two blocks.
Notre Dame only led 35-32 after the first 20 minutes, however, as Pittsburgh closed the half on an 8-2 run.
Taft had 12 points and five rebounds for the Panthers, and junior point guard Carl Krauser added eight points and seven assists.
In the second half, Pittsburgh immediately posted five points to take a 37-35 lead with 19:41 to play. After Krauser hit one of two free throws to make it 38-35, Falls hit his seventh consecutive three to tie it at 38.
Chris Quinn then gave the Irish a 41-40 lead with his only field goal of the game, a three with 18 minutes remaining. After the Panthers took the lead back on a jumper by Krauser, Falls hit two free throws to give the Irish a 43-42, but then Pittsburgh took over.
The Panthers outscored the Irish 13-0 in the next five plus minutes, and Falls missed his first shot in more than 20 minutes of game time at the 12:21 mark. Falls would miss five of his last six shots as he was guarded closely and forced jumpers up wildly.
Notre Dame did score nine straight midway through the half to get within four, but Pittsburgh proved to be too much for the Irish, scoring 53 second-half points on 67 percent shooting.
The Panthers outscored Notre Dame 12-0 in transition and 56-24 in the paint, posting a decisive 85-77 victory on the road. Star guard Chris Thomas shot 2-for-13 from the field and 0-for-8 from three-point range on a forgettable Senior Day, in which he was honored as one of the 25 members of the all-century team.
Thomas and his teammates find themselves on the bubble as March Madness begins.
The Irish have dropped three of their last four games en route to a 17-10 record, 9-7 in the Big East.
At stake Saturday was a first-round bye in the Big East tournament this week in New York, and Notre Dame's loss makes its task that much more daunting.
The Irish may need to make some noise in New York if they are to be considered for the NCAA tournament, and while winning the Big East tourney would earn them an automatic bid, anything short of it may not be enough.