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Sunday, June 16, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame rallies to 70-47 victory over Florida State

For roughly 15 minutes at Purcell Pavilion Thursday night, it appeared the loss of graduate student guard Dara Mabrey would be a cataclysmic, season-ending blow for an Irish team with Final Four ambitions.

With the home crowd at their back for a matchup with No. 24 Florida State, Notre Dame couldn’t buy a bucket. Over the game’s first 12 minutes, the Irish shot just 2-18 from the field. They mustered up seven points in an opening quarter and change that included a nine-minute scoring drought. 

Simply put, the Irish offense looked lost without their sharp-shooting guard. The spacing that Mabrey usually provided didn’t exist, as the Seminoles settled into a zone defense and dared Notre Dame to beat them from deep. Two early fouls by sophomore Olivia Miles took the Irish’s mercurial floor general off the court. And as Florida State amassed a 22-12 lead in front of a silent Purcell audience, the game teetered on the brink of a Seminole rout.

Just the opposite happened instead. With 4:07 remaining in the second quarter, Irish head coach Niele Ivey made a triple substitution: bringing in Miles, freshman guard KK Bransford and funior forward Kylee Watson to try and find a spark. 

And that spark was found with haste. Graduate student center Lauren Ebo converted a quick layup within 10 seconds of Ivey’s subs entering the game. A pullup jumper by Miles, a layup and two free throws from Bransford and another layup by sophomore guard Sonia Citron soon followed without a Seminole response, capping off a 10-point burst by the Irish that helped Notre Dame enter halftime trailing by just one.

In the second half, the Irish blew the game open. A platoon of Ebo, Bransford and Citron found their scoring stride, helping Notre Dame open up a 16-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The Irish would continue to pour it on in the final frame, eventually winning by 23 points. 

After the game, Ivey gave credit to Ebo, who posted a double-double in her first start of the season for the Irish. 

“I really loved our experience, our size with that lineup… I thought [Ebo] was great,” Ivey said. “She’s solid. Great presence when we get her the ball. I think she does very well, one of the best in the country, at finishing. I feel like I had six starters the entire season, so I think that was easy for her [to enter the lineup].”

Also stepping up in Mabrey’s absence were Notre Dame’s two freshmen: Bransford and early enrollee guard Cassandre Prosper. Bransford ended the game with 15 points on an efficient 6-11 clip. And while Prosper struggled to land her shots, she was an active presence all over the court. She finished with five rebounds (four coming on the offensive end), three steals and a block.

Ivey mentioned Bransford’s growth as a major positive for her squad looking down the back half of their conference schedule.

“She’s worked so hard,” said Ivey. “She’s very mature for a freshman, understanding what she needs to do on and off the court, and she’s growing into playing longer stretches. With the loss of Dara, our guards will have to play longer stretches.”

Notre Dame will now start preparations for a road trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, for their second top-25 matchup of three over the next twelve days. The hosting NC State Wolfpack provided both Ivey’s signature win and most agonizing loss last season — with the Irish notching a major top-five win at home in February and a season-ending Sweet 16 loss in March against the ‘Pack in 2022. The NC State game will tip off at 3 p.m. on Saturday and will be broadcast on ESPN.

Contact J.J. Post at jpost2@nd.edu.