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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Irish ride dominating first half to win over Syracuse

In the first half of No. 3 Notre Dame’s game against Syracuse on Thursday, Muffet McGraw seemed about as content as Muffet McGraw can be.

In the second half, the Irish head coach was quite literally pulling her hair out.

Fortunately for the Irish — and McGraw’s locks — their performance in quarters one and two was enough to keep the Orange at a safe distance en route to a 90-62 win.

Everything seemed to go right for Notre Dame (18-1, 6-0 ACC) in the first half, and even when they didn’t, the buckets were falling in anyways.

Case in point: During the first quarter, a 3-point attempt by graduate student guard Madison Cable was blocked by Syracuse (14-5, 4-2), but the rebound bounced to freshman guard Arike Ogunbowale, who came through on a contested layup.

The basket was one of 23 the Irish made in the first half, when they shot a scorching 67.6 percent, despite dealing with a difficult full-court press from the Orange throughout the game.

“I just thought the way we attacked off the press was very effective,” McGraw said. “We found the 3-point shooters, especially [senior guard] Michaela [Mabrey], and then we drove it and found [sophomore guard Brianna Turner] for some.

“ … [Junior guard] Lindsay Allen in particular was just so smart with the ball today. She did a great job of running things and getting people the ball in the spots they needed to get them in.”

By halftime, Notre Dame was up 28 points, 57-29, after holding Syracuse to 11-of-40 shooting (27.5 percent) in the half and just 11 points in the first 10 minutes.

Mabrey had connected on four of five 3-point attempts by that time, and she made two more after the break, along with a long 2-point shot, to bring her scoring total on the night to a career-high-tying 20 points.

The six 3s also matched Mabrey’s career high in makes behind the arc and tied a Purcell Pavilion record.

“It’s a lot of fun,” McGraw said of Mabrey’s game. “She’s got a lot of jobs out there with taking over for the freshmen when Lindsay was out, and she’s gotta take care of those guys and keep them in the right spots, and then she’s gotta do her job, too. She’s gotta think for everybody on the floor, and she did a really good job of that tonight.”

“Obviously, I couldn’t do it without my teammates, and like Coach said, Lindsay’s such a good facilitator, and she draws a lot of people, so Maddie [Cable] and I were open a lot of the time, and once we start hitting our shots, it opens up the inside,” Mabrey said.

Senior guard Michaela Mabrey shoots during an Irish 79-66 victory over Tennessee on Monday at Purcell Pavilion.
Grace Tourville | The Observer
Senior guard Michaela Mabrey readies to shoot during Notre Dame’s 79-66 victory over Tennessee on Monday at Purcell Pavilion.

But once the Irish came out of the locker room for the second half, they were hampered by missed shots and Syracuse offensive rebounds. The Orange grabbed 28 total boards on the offensive glass and turned them into 20 second-chance points during the game.

At one point during the third quarter, Syracuse went on a 12-1 run to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 18, while the Irish missed four straight field goals during that time.

McGraw said part of the team’s shortcomings in the third quarter were a result of its youngest players making rookie mistakes.

“The freshmen have some work to do in the press,” McGraw said. “I think they just were a little lackadaisical passing the ball, and I think that we can fix that very easily.”

The fourth quarter wasn’t much better for the Irish, who shot just 38.5 percent after halftime and tied Syracuse in scoring in the final two quarters at 33 points each.

Sophomore forward Brianna Turner added 19 points and five blocks, the third time in four games she’s reached that total of blocked shots, while Ogunbowale (14) and Cable (13) rounded out Notre Dame’s double-digit scorers.

Junior guard Alexis Peterson and senior guard Brianna Butler led the Orange with 12 points apiece, but their efforts — and the team’s 23-for-82 overall shooting — weren’t enough for Syracuse to overcome Notre Dame’s blazing first half on both ends of the floor.

“You have to give them a lot of credit for being who they are, the No. 3 team in the country, a very good basketball team, and they played like it tonight,” Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman said. “For us, we understand. I’ve played this team for 10 years now, so it’s not like I’m coming here — I think with some of the ACC teams, they’re kind of like, ‘Wow.’ But I’m like, ‘That’s Notre Dame.’ That’s what they can do when you’re not ready to play.”

The Irish return to the court Sunday, when they take on ACC opponent Virginia Tech at 1 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.