PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh’s James Robinson took an elbow to the face from a teammate, a shot to mouth from Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson and a metaphorical punch to the gut when the eighth-ranked Irish turned an eight-point deficit into a one-point lead with 31 seconds left on Saturday.
The junior guard responded with his typical toughness and a twisting runner that may have saved the Panthers’ season.
Robinson sliced through the lane for the go-ahead basket with 12 seconds left to lift Pitt to a 76-72 win. Four days after his seeming clinching shot against Virginia Tech somehow morphed into a brutal overtime loss on the road, Robinson helped the Panthers improve to 14-3 all-time against Top 10 teams at the Petersen Events Center.
“I just turned the corner and made the basket,” he said. “My team had a lot of faith in me.”
Robinson finished with 14 points and 10 assists for his first career double-double. His second steal of the game with 4 seconds left gave Pitt’s sagging NCAA prospects a much-needed boost.
The Panthers (14-8, 4-5 ACC) ended a three-game losing streak by withstanding a late push from Notre Dame star Jerian Grant, who scored nine straight points, including a pair of free throw that put the Irish up 72-71 with 31 seconds to play. Notre Dame (20-3, 8-2) had a chance to reclaim the lead after Robinson’s bucket but Steve Vasturia’s 3-pointer from the corner clanged off the rim. Jamel Artis hit two free throws and Robinson stepped in front of the ensuing heave to midcourt.
“This game right here was the season,” Artis said.
Grant shook off a tough start to score 14 points but the Irish couldn’t end a difficult three-game stretch a perfect 3-0. Notre Dame beat N.C. State on the road last Sunday and followed it up with a thrilling upset of No. 4 Duke on Wednesday. The Irish, however, couldn’t get the one stop it needed while falling on the road in conference for the first time.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey admitted he thought his team had escaped once again when Vasturia grabbed the ball in the corner and let it fly.
“The way we’ve been winning, I’m thinking we may steal another one,” Brey said. “We’ve had two thefts this week already. We’re 2-1 in thefts.”
Jackson led the Irish with 15 points. Vasturia had 12 and Zach Auguste added 12 points and six boards but Notre Dame could not back up its emotional victory over the Blue Devils.
“If you were going to steal it, you had to steal it after Jerian’s free throw,” Brey said. “When Robinson hit the runner it’s almost like you don’t deserve it.”
Artis paced Pitt with 19 points and eight rebounds. Michael Young finished with 16 points and Cameron Wright added 14. The Panthers shot a season-high 58 percent from the floor and assisted on 24 of its 31 baskets.
“Great to see the ball movement and the passing,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “It was great to see these guys get this win because they’ve been working so hard.”
With little to show for it. The Panthers are in danger of missing the NCAAs for just the second time in Dixon’s dozen seasons on the job but found a gear late behind Robinson, a reluctant shooter early in his career who is starting to blossom.
Down a point with perhaps the season on the line, Dixon drew up a play that gave Robinson the option of driving or kicking it out for a jumper. When Robinson was left one-on-one with a Notre Dame defender, he knifed to the hoop while absorbing more than a little contact.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Dixon said.
For once, the rest of the Panthers joined him.
Notre Dame: The Irish are 16-2 in their last 18 games. … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 31-29 but saw its two-game streak at the Petersen Events Center end. … The Irish went more than five minutes without a field goal in the second half.
Pitt: The Panthers gave sixth-man Newkirk his first start of the season. Newkirk finished with six points and four assists against just one turnover. … Pitt’s three-game losing streak was its longest since an eight-game slide in 2011-12.
UNSELFISH: The Panthers shot a season-high 58 percent from the floor and assisted on a season-high 24 of their 31 baskets. The previous best this year was 20 assists.
BUSTED OPEN: Robinson’s winner on Saturday came after being treated for a bloody lip following a run-in with Jackson and a couple of woozy moments when Young smacked him in the head while the two teammates dived for a loose ball.
Notre Dame hosts Boston College on Wednesday.
Pitt hosts Bryant on Monday.