SOUTH BEND — First, Notre Dame women’s basketball was torn apart on its own court like almost never before.
Then, its Hall of Fame coach teared up like perhaps never before.
Albeit only for a moment.
Then Muffet McGraw, the weight of a crumbling season on her shoulders, added a resolute spin move.
The sequence started just shy of six minutes into her nine-minute postgame meeting with media, following her team’s 90-56 loss to No. 9-ranked North Carolina State on Sunday evening at Purcell Pavilion.
A reporter’s question on how difficult the season’s been on her was met with a reddening face, a 14-second pause and the beginning of the sobs.
“I just ... I gotta do better,” McGraw finally said. “I feel like I can fix it, but I didn’t.”
Then came another six seconds of silence.
“I’m gonna keep trying. I’m gonna find an answer, I’m gonna fix it.”
Six more seconds of silence.
“Sorry,” McGraw whispered in a room in which nobody was seeking an apology.
That room was momentarily about as quiet as the game had just been brutal, a game that was accompanied by some ugly milestones for one of the nation’s most accomplished programs.
The Irish (6-11, 1-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), in their 43rd season, suffered a record-setting fifth straight home loss.
They also suffered their second-worst home defeat over McGraw’s 33 seasons, barely outdone only by a 105-70 loss to No. 1 Tennessee in January 1994.
They dropped to 2-7 at home overall, tying the single-season record for most home losses — with still at least six home games to go. McGraw’s never finished below .500 at home, and the program’s worst home record is 6-7 in 1980-81, its first season in NCAA Division I.
On top of it all, freshman guard Anaya Peoples never returned after suffering a right shoulder injury in the second quarter. McGraw said she didn’t know how long Peoples might be sidelined, if at all.
ND trailed just 32-22 when Peoples exited, but given the way the Wolfpack played, nobody was making a case that she would’ve made much difference.
“N.C. State’s a great team,” McGraw said. “They have all the weapons you need. That’s why they’re ranked in the top 10. They can go inside, they can shoot the ball really well. Even when we played well defensively, I felt like there were just so many little things that didn’t go our way.”
The Wolfpack (15-1, 4-1) roared to a 69-36 lead through three quarters, including a 30-11 spread in the third period, to put the game away.
Notre Dame had trailed just 34-25 at 1:12 to go before halftime, but State scored the last five points of the second quarter, then began the third period with a 16-1 run for a 55-26 count.
Sophomore center Elissa Cunane, proving near-unstoppable against ND’s zone, scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Wolfpack before sitting out all of the fourth quarter. She closed at 8-of-10 from the field with a pair of 3-pointers and 4-of-5 at the line.
Freshman forward Jada Boyd added 16 points with 7-of-11 shooting from the field, junior forward Kayla Jones 15 points with 6-of-7, and junior guard Kai Crutchfield 13 points with 5-of-6.
Sophomore guard Katlyn Gilbert unleashed a career-high 25 points and a game-high four steals for the Irish on a day no other ND player had more than five points through three quarters, but she found little consolation in her performance.
“Personally, I try not to focus on myself,” said Gilbert, who finished 12 of-26 from the field, while her teammates converted 11-of-42. “I’m just trying to focus on what’s working and what’s not working as a team.”
Gilbert added that the biggest thing in her team’s way right now is “ourselves.”
“I’m not sure what it is,” she said when asked to elaborate. “We’ve all obviously gotten here, so we know how to play defense. We have a good basketball IQ. We just have to put it together and get it down pat against great teams like NC State.”
McGraw said she still feels the Irish, who have lost seven of their last nine, will right themselves.
“I feel like we’re good enough,” McGraw said. “I really believe we’re good enough and we just haven’t had that game where everybody plays well at the same time.”
Against the Wolfpack, recently hot Destinee Walker went just 4-of-15 from the field, but still wound up ND’s second-leading scorer at 11 points, six of those coming in the fourth quarter.
Sam Brunelle and Mikki Vaughn were next at just six points apiece, and the two bigs added just a combined three rebounds between them over a combined 52 minutes.
Marta Sniezek, who had just two points and two assists, did draw her 20th opposition charge of the season to set an unofficial Irish record. She has at least one in 10 straight games.
The primary concern, though, remained Peoples, the team’s top rebounder at 8.1 per game to go with a 12.6 scoring average.
“If we lose her, boy,” McGraw said, shaking her head.
“We need the body, but (also) she’s relentless, just relentless,” the coach added. “She just never quits, she goes after every ball. She never stops trying and I think she’s just kind of a workhorse, kind of a blue-collar player, and you have to have someone like that in the game.”
Notre Dame visits Duke on Thursday before hosting Miami next Sunday.
NC STATE (15-1): Jones 6-7 2-2 15, Cunane 8-10 4-5 22, Brown-Turner 2-5 0-0 5, Crutchfield 5-6 0-0 13, Konig 2-8 0-0 5, Boyd 7-11 2-4 16, Cassell 0-0 0-0 0, Hobby 2-3 0-0 4, Ealey 0-0 1-2 1, Hunter 2-5 2-2 7, Moore 0-2 2-2 2, Wadsworth 0-3 0-0 0, Totals 34-60 13-17 90
NOTRE DAME (6-11): Brunelle 2-8 0-0 6, Vaughn 3-3 0-0 6, Gilbert 12-26 1-2 25, Sniezek 0-1 2-2 2, Walker 4-15 3-4 11, Cosgrove 0-7 0-0 0, Keyes 0-0 0-0 0, Benz 1-2 0-0 3, Cole 0-0 0-0 0, Murdock 0-0 0-0 0, Murdock 0-1 0-0 0, Peoples 1-5 1-4 3, Totals 23-68 7-12 56
NC State ;22 ;17 ;30 ;21 ;—; 90
Notre Dame ;15 ;10 ;11 ;20; —; 56
3-Point Goals_NC State 9-26 (Jones 1-2, Cunane 2-2, Brown-Turner 1-4, Crutchfield 3-4, Konig 1-7, Boyd 0-1, Hobby 0-1, Hunter 1-2, Wadsworth 0-3), Notre Dame 3-22 (Brunelle 2-7, Gilbert 0-3, Walker 0-6, Cosgrove 0-4, Benz 1-1, Murdock 0-1). Assists_NC State 18 (Konig 5), Notre Dame 9 (Vaughn 2). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_NC State 44 (Hunter 3-5), Notre Dame 31 (Walker 3-4). Total Fouls_NC State 14, Notre Dame 16. Technical Fouls_None. A_7,861.