BROOKLYN (AP) – Bonzie Colson scored 19 points in 33 minutes, getting a full day’s work in his third game back from injury as Notre Dame needed the star forward to hold off Pittsburgh 67-64 in its Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament opener Tuesday.
Jared Wilson-Frame made a 3 from the left wing for last-place Pitt (8-24) with 1:34 remaining to cut the lead to 61-58, and he missed another 32 seconds later. After a couple free throws by Notre Dame’s T.J. Gibbs Jr., Marcus Carr hit another 3 to draw the 15th-seeded Panthers within 63-61.
Colson made two from the line with 22.3 seconds left after loose-ball foul on Carr that drew loud complaints from Pitt coach Kevin Stallings. Carr lost the ball on Pitt’s next possession and 10th-seeded Notre Dame managed to close it out without any more drama.
The Irish play seventh-seeded Virginia Tech on Wednesday.
Colson missed 15 games with a broken left foot before returning last week to play the final two games of the regular season. Against Pitt, the preseason All-American looked fine in a game that was no beauty for the Fighting Irish. Colson’s turnaround jumper was working early and he leaned into defenders for a couple more buckets. He finished 5 for 14 from the field, grabbed six rebounds and looked stylish in his emerald green sneakers with gold trim.
Matt Farrell scored 18 for the Irish, who shot 34 percent.
Notre Dame improved to 13-4 with Colson in the lineup and are hoping a good showing here at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn will convince the NCAA Tournament selection committee that, with a healthy Colson, the Fighting Irish deserve a spot in field of 68.
Pitt took a 12-point halftime deficit down to 48-45 with 9:00 left on a 3-pointer from Parker Stewart. Mostly, Notre Dame’s poor shooting in the second half (4 for 24) kept the Panthers in it.
Pitt: Will Stallings be back for a third season with the Panthers? Firing a coach after two seasons is odd, but Pitt has been historically bad this season. The Panthers went 0-19 against the ACC. Plus, Stallings got into some trouble earlier in the year when he taunted a Louisville fan with a reference to paying players. On top of it all the athletic director who hired Stallings at Pitt, Scott Barnes, left for Oregon State last year.
Stallings, who left Vanderbilt for Pitt, is 24-41 and 5-34 against ACC opponents.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish had little to gain and everything to lose against Pitt, but they took care of business and Colson showed no obvious signs of physical limitations.
Pitt: The Stallings watch starts.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish lost 80-75 to Virginia Tech in South Bend, Indiana, without Colson in late January. The Irish also played that game Farrell, who missed several games during Colson’s absence with a bad ankle.