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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame flies past Lewis in exhibition game

Returning to Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame looked every bit the reigning national champions, defeating Lewis University 107-65 on Tuesday in the only exhibition game of the season.

The last time the Irish played on their home court they punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 with a 98-72 win over Villanova. In the two weeks following that matchup, they would go on to win their next four games by a margin of eight points or less, including back-to-back buzzer beaters by senior guard Arike Ogunbowale in the semifinals and finals to clinch the second national title for the program.

Irish junior guard Jackie Young surveys the court during Notre Dame's 84-70 win over Tennessee on Jan. 18 at Purcell Pavilion.

After Notre Dame scored a quick 10 points to open the game, Lewis mounted a response of its own to close the first quarter as Notre Dame held a 26-15 lead. Although the team still managed to post an impressive offensive performance, Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said she the defensive effort against the Flyers was disappointing, citing slow rotation and poor shot blocking inside.

“I think we’re a really capable offensive team. We’ve got a lot of different weapons, a lot of people that can score, but we just have no desire to defend,” she said. “I just think we have so much work to do on the defensive end. We’re capable, for the most part, but we are not willing and I think that’s a huge part that’s going to continue throughout the year. I’d imagine we’re gonna get beat a bunch because we can’t just wait until that one day when we finally have to defend and just expect that it’s going to come. That’s just not there.”

Led by the veteran unit of Ogunbowale, junior guard Jackie Young, senior forward Jessica Shepard and graduate student forward Brianna Turner, the Irish delivered a balanced attack, with that quartet combining for all 51 of the team’s first-half points. Replacing senior guard Marina Mabrey, who is out with a leg injury, Jordan Nixon joined them in the starting lineup. Although the freshman guard struggled to get things going early on, she finished with nine points, going a perfect 5-5 from the line in her collegiate debut.

“She’s got a lot of upside,” McGraw said. “I think [the freshmen] all have potential but they’re not ready yet.”

Young led all scorers with 25 points, followed closely behind by Shepard’s 23.

Turner, who missed the entirety of last season to rehabilitate a torn ACL she suffered during the NCAA tournament her junior year, proved she’s still a serious threat in the paint. Claiming to be back to 100 percent earlier in the year, Turner put that to the test in the opening minutes of the second quarter on a fast break as she connected a half-court pass by Ogunbowale to lay it off the glass. This bucket, marking the second of Ogunbowale’s 11 total assists, sparked the Irish offense as they would go on to outscore the Flyers 16-6 in the final six minutes of the half and return to the locker room with a comfortable 51-31 lead.

McGraw said Ogunbowale has always been a good passer in transition when commenting of the target that tends to follow her as a key defensive matchup.

“ … That’s where I think she’s been really smart knowing that she can draw somebody else and find one of the posts,” she said.

The second half saw the Irish continue to extend their lead as they got more supporting players involved. Center Mikayla Vaughn recorded her first career double-double with 15 rebounds and 11 points, all of which came in the second half. The sophomore missed the majority of last season due to a torn ACL.

“She still has the energy,” McGraw joked of the fourth-quarter series when Vaughn totaled three-straight offensive rebounds off of her own misses only to finally draw the foul.

Meanwhile, freshman forward Danielle Cosgrove chipped in five points, including the team’s lone 3-pointer with under a minute remaining.

McGraw attributed the team’s poor shooting performance beyond the arc in part to the absence of Mabrey, whose career 3-point percentage is just under 40 percent.

As the Irish prepare to begin regular season play by hosting Harvard on Nov. 9, expect their defense to be a top priority for McGraw.

“We need more of a presence inside,” she said. “We’re not intimidating anyone. They just come in and score pretty much at will, 65 points that’s way too much to give them.”

The Crimson are predicted to finish third in the Ivy League preseason poll after a first-round exit from the NIT last season. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. inside Purcell Pavilion.