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Sunday, June 16, 2024
The Observer

Young, Mabrey lead rout of Georgia Tech as Irish defense stifles

In the first game for the Irish at Purcell Pavilion in nearly two weeks, following a three-game road tour that included being upset by unranked North Carolina, No. 5 Notre Dame welcomed the Irish faithful with a stunning first half, dropping 54 points against Georgia Tech while holding the Yellow Jackets to a mere 13 points.

“Defensively we found the shooters, rebounded, ran, did everything we wanted to do,” Irish head coach Muffet McGraw said. “ … I thought we were really active.”

Annie Smierciak | The Observer
Irish senior guard Marina Mabrey calls a play and brings the ball up court as junior guard Jackie Young runs behind her during Notre Dame's 89-71 loss to UConn on Dec. 2 at Purcell Pavilion.

From the moment the ball tipped, these teams proved to be stark contrasts of each other. While Notre Dame’s (21-2, 8-1 ACC) starting five consists of one junior, three seniors and a graduate student, Georgia Tech’s (13-9, 3-6) rotation begins with two freshmen, two sophomores and a lone junior leader.

Despite their considerable age difference, the Yellow Jackets were able to keep things close at first, matching the Irish through the opening three minutes of play to take a 6-4 lead, led by sophomore forward Lorela Cubaj’s four points. However, the Irish experience soon showed as the team proceeded to go on a 24-4 run with all five starters contributing on the scoreboard. Back-to-back 3-pointers by senior guards Marina Mabrey and Arike Ogunbowale set the offense in motion before junior guard Jackie Young took over, dropping a game-leading 10 points in as many minutes. Those two 3-pointers by the seniors were the only attempts of the quarter for the Irish as they picked up most of their points off pressure and in transition. Senior forward Jessica Shepard also added to the momentum, connecting on back-to-back and-ones in the middle of that run.

This was Young’s second game back since missing that five-point upset by North Carolina (14-9, 5-4) on the road last Sunday due to an ankle sprain. The junior has emerged as a cornerstone of this program, averaging 14.6 points and over six-and-a-half rebounds on the season.

“She brings everything, she’s an all around versatile player,” Mabrey said of Young. “She grabs rebounds, she goes in there and scores, she can drive it and shoot, she makes great passes. … Just having a really good connection with her on defense.”

Despite Georgia Tech head coach MaChelle Joseph claiming Young to be one of the most overlooked players in the country, citing the North Carolina game as evidence, Young insisted that her focus is not on her own recognition, but the team’s success.

“We have a great team and I don’t know, we can’t really focus on one player. … I just go out there and do whatever I can to help my team win,” Young said.

Irish junior guard Jackie Young looks to make a pass during Notre Dame's 89-71 loss to UConn on Dec. 2 at Purcell Pavilion. Young finished with 18 points against the Huskies.

Returning to the court for the second quarter, the Irish only built on their lead, matching their offensive efficiency with equally stifling defense. Defense has been an area in need of improvement earlier in the season, McGraw said, yet none of those weaknesses were on display against the Yellow Jackets as the Irish held them to three points in the quarter.

The starting five came out in rhythm, with all three guards adding two points each while graduate student Brianna Turner and Shepard connected at the charity stripe. Mabrey hit a shot beyond the arc followed by a slight stall in offensive efficiency, as neither team scored for over a minute. With just under three minutes remaining in the half, freshman guard Lotta-Maj Lahtinen recorded a 3 of her own to break an 11-minute dry spell for the Yellow Jackets as the Irish had built themselves a comfortable 35-point lead.

“Notre Dame’s defense was good … but we didn’t execute,” Joseph said. “Our freshmen and our young players were like deers in headlights. They had never played here and I think it was an eye-opening experience. That’s tough for a young team, especially in this conference.”

Notre Dame finished the half with poise, adding eight more points before returning to the locker room. The second quarter was helpful in integrating more bench players as sophomores Mikayla Vaughn and Danielle Patterson combined for five of the team’s 54 first-half points.

Despite the routing her team received at the hands of McGraw and the Irish, Joseph expressed nothing but admiration for the Irish.

“I’m gonna use their example for this young team for years to come that it doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, what the score is, you’ve still got to compete at a very high level and never stop competing and I thought Notre Dame did that very well today,” Joseph said. “ … They’re efficient, they know their rules and they all play to their strengths.”

Although the momentum would eventually run short, the damage had been done. Georgia Tech returned from the break and managed to more than double its first-half score, getting contributions by four different players. However, the Irish decided to show they were a force to be reckoned with in several different dimensions as Mabrey knocked down three-straight 3s in just over a minute in response to the four-straight points the Yellow Jackets dropped to open the half. She would later add in one more 3-pointer before the end of the quarter on the way to her game-leading 20 points, having shot 6-of-7 from long range.

The fourth quarter gave fans a look at what the future has to hold for the Irish as Young, the lone junior in the starting lineup, played alongside the underclassmen. Georgia Tech continued to find its groove on the offensive end, scoring 20 fourth-quarter points, but the younger Irish held their own, adding 16 points to the Notre Dame total, including a perfect four-for-four from the line by freshman guard Jordan Nixon.

McGraw was generally pleased with the performance of her team but commented on the 20 turnovers committed by her players and the need to improve as conference play continues.

“I think we’re careless. That’s the first thing,” McGraw said. “The other thing is we have too much confidence in each other. We see a double team coming and we just expect they’re going to get out of it instead of thinking ‘She might need my help.’ So we’re not that good at helping each other right now. I think we need to practice it more, working on passing out of double teams.”

With February kicking off, the Irish will see the remainder of their ACC schedule with only seven games standing between them and the conference tournament. McGraw knows that this team still has room to improve before those March matchups.

“I don’t think we’ve come close to our masterpiece … you want to peak in March so we’ve definitely got some growing to do,” she said.

The Irish will travel to Coral Gables, Florida, to take on Miami on Thursday. Tip off is scheduled for 7 p.m.