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Friday, March 1, 2024
The Observer

No. 5 Notre Dame back atop ACC with 95-72 road win over No. 9 NC State

No. 5 Notre Dame notched a season-high 37 fast-break points and used a dominant offensive showing in the third quarter to top No. 9 North Carolina State 95-72 and launch itself back to the top of the ACC standings Monday night.

The win in Reynolds Coliseum — as NC State recognized former head coach Kay Yow with its “Play4Kay” pink game — was Notre Dame’s seventh over a ranked team this season, a league-best, and its third top-10 victory. In a twist similar to the one Notre Dame (24-3, 11-2 ACC) experienced last season, the Wolfpack (22-3, 9-3) have four players out with season-ending ACL tears this year.

The Irish established their transition game early, as Irish senior guard Arike Ogunbowale chased down a long outlet pass from junior guard Jackie Young, keeping the ball in bounds with a left-handed behind-the-back pass to graduate student forward Brianna Turner, who finished with a layup to put Notre Dame up 12-6 with 5:42 left in the first quarter. The fast-break, started by one of two blocks from Turner and one of five for the Irish on the night, set the tone for the rest of the matchup.

“We got some steals, we rebounded, we got the break going and I think when we can get going in the transition, we can score,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said.

Senior guard Arike Ogunbowale powers past Florida State’s Morgan Jones in Notre Dame’s annual Pink Zone game in Purcell Pavilion Feb. 10.
Senior guard Arike Ogunbowale powers past Florida State’s Morgan Jones in Notre Dame’s annual Pink Zone game in Purcell Pavilion Feb. 10.

The Wolfpack responded with two quick baskets to make the score 12-10, before Ogunbowale made an impact on the scoreboard, pouring in nine of Notre Dame’s final 11 points in the first. But despite Ogunbowale’s sharp shooting, the Irish were unable to separate themselves, and the rest of the quarter was evenly matched between the two teams, with the score 23-21 at the end of the frame.

NC State freshman forward Elissa Cunane challenged Notre Dame’s bigs in the paint during the second quarter, consistently getting position on Turner, senior forward Jessica Shepard and Irish sophomore forward Mikayla Vaughn — causing Turner and Vaughn to rack up two fouls each by halftime.

“She’s a heck of a player,” McGraw said of Cunane. “Definitely [an] all-rookie selection, and possibly Rookie of the Year. I mean, she just was really unstoppable in the second quarter.”

The Irish used an 11-2 scoring run in the middle of the second quarter to stay on top, though, and went into the locker room up 41-36 with both Ogunbowale and senior guard Marina Mabrey in double digits, recording 11 and 10 points, respectively. McGraw said Mabrey, who finished the night with 21 points and shot 3-for-5 from behind the arc, made some “big shots” for the Irish throughout the game.

The Wolfpack came out strong in the third quarter, using solid 3-point shooting to tie the score at 47 with 7:03 left in the frame, but the Irish reclaimed momentum from there. Notre Dame scored 12 unanswered points to push the score to 59-47 and never looked back, pouring on the defensive pressure and pushing the tempo with fast breaks.

“The third quarter was just our defense, I think,” Shepard said. “You know, we know anytime that we can get stops on defense that means we can get out and run, and they put a big emphasis on rebounding at the half. We were giving them too many second-chance opportunities, and I think we did a better job in that third quarter of just rebounding, and then we [could] get out and run.”

Young credited Shepard’s strong outlet passes with the team’s ability to effectively get out in transition so often during the game.

“We were able to get stops and get boards, and Jess is a great outlet-er, so every time she gets it, she gives us a head start and we’re able to get going in transition and either get the layup or find Marina [or] Arike spotting up from the 3-point line,” Young said.

Notre Dame scored 34 points in the third, ending the quarter with a 75-59 lead over NC State that would only grow in the fourth.

Ogunbowale led the way to start the final quarter, scoring five points before Young and Shepard added a pair of scores to give the Irish a 9-0 run and force a Wolfpack timeout. Ogunbowale finished the night as Notre Dame’s leading scorer with 22 points to go along with eight rebounds and eight assists, putting her just 11 points behind Skylar Diggins-Smith at the top of the program's all-time leading-scorer list.

The Irish held the Wolfpack to 13 points in the quarter, NC State’s lowest-scoring quarter of the game, and put up 20 of their own to seal the 23-point win. Notre Dame out-rebounded NC State 25-11 in the second half and 45-28 overall, something McGraw said she was happy to see because of the way it fed the team’s transition game.

“That’s our game. I was worried about the rebounds because they’re such a good rebounding team, so we thought if we could rebound we’d be able to get out in transition,” McGraw said.

She also noted that Notre Dame’s defense was much stronger than it had been in each of the team’s two ACC losses — the first to North Carolina on Jan. 27 on the road, and the second Feb. 7 at No. 14 Miami (FL).

“I think in both of our losses we didn’t defend, especially late in the game — when we needed to get a stop, we weren’t able to get one,” McGraw said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well, we didn’t rebound well so we couldn’t run so we didn’t score a lot of points, and when we did have an opportunity to score, we didn’t shoot the ball well. So I think a lot of things went wrong.”

With No. 4 Louisville’s loss to Miami on Sunday, Notre Dame was in a three-way tie for first place in the ACC, with NC State half a game back before Monday’s game. The win now puts the Irish alone at the top, half a game ahead of both the Cardinals and the Hurricanes.

“It gave us a new, kind of fresh look at things,” McGraw said of her team realizing its opportunity to find itself back on top of the conference. “ … I think it definitely gave us kind of a little motivation.”

Notre Dame will return home Thursday to take on Duke in one of its final three regular season games of the year. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Purcell Pavilion.