No. 24 Pittsburgh 85, Notre Dame 77

Saturday, March 5th 2005, 4:55 pm

By: News On 6

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) _ Chris Taft had a career-high 26 points and Pittsburgh scored 56 points in the paint to beat Notre Dame 85-77 on Saturday.

Chevon Troutman had 22 points and Carl Krauser added 15 for the 24th-ranked Panthers (20-7, 10-6), who posted their fourth straight 20-win season, clinched fifth place in the Big East and first-round bye in the league tournament.

The Irish (17-9, 9-7), who lost for the third time in four games, fell to sixth place to miss out on the first- round bye and hurt their hopes for an NCAA tournament berth.

The Panthers were simply too much for the Irish inside, shooting 57 percent for the game _ their second best performance of the season.

Colin Falls, who scored a career-high 28 points with a school-record tying eight 3-pointers, gave Notre Dame a 43-42 lead 5 minutes into the second half on a pair of free throws. But the Panthers went on a 13-0 run, with Taft scoring seven points. Except for a free throw by Taft, all the points were scored on baskets inside.

Mark McCarroll capped the run with a rebound basket _ two of 13 second-half points by the Panthers _ as Pitt opened a 58-43 lead.

The Irish cut the lead to 60-56 when Chris Thomas made a pair of free throws with 6:50 left. They had a chance to get closer, but Falls missed a 3 and Thomas missed a 15-foot jumper. Thomas missed his first 10 shots and finished 2-of-13 with 12 points.

Pitt, which outscored the Irish 12-0 on fast-break points, then scored five quick points. Antonio Graves, who had 11 points, scored on an acrobatic, left-handed layup. Troutman added a basket and free throw.

After Thomas made his first shot, a 10-foot jumper from the baseline, the Panthers put the game away with a 7-0 run.

Taft added 11 rebounds and four blocks in his second straight strong game after playing poorly in Pitt's recent three-game losing streak.

Torin Francis had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Irish, who led 35-32 at halftime.

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