Notre Dame women blitz N.C. State in second half

CURT RALLO
South Bend Tribune

RALEIGH, N.C. — Struggling to find its shooting touch in the first half, No. 2-ranked Notre Dame found its knockout punch in the second.

The Fighting Irish used a 17-0 run in the second half to hammer No. 13 North Carolina State, 84-60, Sunday afternoon in the Atlantic Coast Conference women’s basketball regular-season finale. The Irish led by as many as 30 in the second half.

Notre Dame closed its first ACC regular season with a 16-0 record, and finished a regular season unbeaten (29-0) for the first time in program history. The Irish open ACC Tournament play on Friday at 2 p.m. in Greensboro, N.C. North Carolina State (24-6, 11-5), the No. 4 seed, also opens ACC Tournament play on Friday.

“I’m so proud of my team and what they’ve accomplished this year,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “I think it was a phenomenal achievement. It was great teamwork, it was unselfish play, it was good defense. It was the little things. We still have a long road ahead of us, but I think we need to sit back for a moment and reflect on what we have accomplished.”

North Carolina State’s loss to the Irish was its worst of the season, topping a 13-point setback to Duke. The Wolfpack were also held to a season-low in points.

Senior post Natalie Achonwa powered the Irish against a physical North Carolina State inside presence. Achonwa scored 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the floor.

Jewell Loyd scored 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including two 3s.

Kayla McBride and Ariel Braker scored 12 points each for the Irish.

Most of Achonwa’s buckets came as the trailer in transition.

“I ended up cutting to the basket when they were overplaying us. Lindsay Allen and our guards made some great back-door passes, and that led to easy baskets.

“(N.C. State’s Markeisha) Gatling is a great player. She’s really strong and really physical. I used my foot speed a little bit to battle and counteract that physicality.”

Notre Dame hit three of its first 10 shots, and was 5-of-18 at one point. The Irish caught fire late, hitting seven of their last eight shots in the first half to surge to a 36-28 halftime lead. The Irish closed the half with a 20-9 run. Notre Dame hit 27 of its last 39 shots (69 percent) and finished 32-of-57 (56 percent).

“I thought Ariel Braker had a great game, just a tremendous game, 12 points, eight rebounds,’’ McGraw said. “She really got us going in the second half, and she kept us alive in the first half with her offensive rebounding. I was really pleased with her. I thought Taya Reimer played very well, also.”

The Irish hit their first 18 free throws and finished 18-of-19. The free throws helped jump-start the offense before the transition kicked in.

“I thought better defense, better rebounding the second half was the difference,” McGraw said.

Defensively, the Irish made sure that 6-foot-5 post Markeisha Gatling didn’t overpower the Irish. Gatling who averages 17.4 points, finished with 12.

Miah Spencer led North Carolina State with 18 points, and Kody Burke scored 15. Wolfpack guard Len’Nique Brown was just 2-of-16.

“You have to give Notre Dame a lot of credit,” North Carolina State coach Wes Moore said. “They’re very well coached. They play hard, and man, can they shoot the ball. That’s what sets them apart. There’s really no weakness out there, no one who you can cheat off of. Hat’s off to them.”

NOTRE DAME (29-0): Natalie Achonwa 8-9 3-3 19, Lindsay Allen 1-7 4-4 6, Kayla McBride 5-15 2-2 12, Jewell Loyd 7-10 2-2 18, Ariel Braker 3-4 6-6 12, Whitney Holloway 0-0 0-0 0, Kristina Nelson 0-0 0-0 0, Taya Reimer 2-4 1-2 5, Madison Cable 2-2 0-0 4, Michaela abrey 2-3 0-0 4, Hannah Huffman 1-1 0-0 2, Markisha Wright 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 32-57 18-19 84.

NC STATE (24-6): Len’Nique Brown 2-16 1-2 6, Breezy Williams 0-4 0-1 0, Krystal Barrett 1-5 0-0 2, Markeisha Gatling 6-10 0-1 12, Kody Burke 6-12 1-1 15, Miah Spencer 7-11 3-4 18, Ashley Williams 1-2 0-0 3, Eli 0-0 0-0 0, Jennifer Mathurin 0-2 1-2 1, Kaley Moser 1-1 0-0 3, Julianna Prim 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-63 6-11 60.

Halftime — Notre Dame 36-28. 3-Point Goals — Notre Dame 2-9 (Loyd 2-3, Mabrey 0-1, Allen 0-2, McBride 0-3), NC State 6-20 (Burke 2-5, Moser 1-1, A. Williams 1-2, Spencer 1-2, Brown 1-5, Mathurin 0-1, N. Williams 0-2, Barrett 0-2). Fouled Out — Reimer. Rebounds — Notre Dame 41 (Braker 8), NC State 27 (Gatling 11). Assists — Notre Dame 19 (McBride 6), NC State 18 (Brown 7). Total Fouls — Notre Dame 11, NC State 16. A — 3,516.

Notre Dame 's Lindsay Allen (15) faces off against North Carolina State 's Ashley Williams during the first half of  Sunday's game in Raleigh, N.C. AP Photo/KARL B. DEBLAKER