Jessica Shepard shows Notre Dame the way in 91-82 victory over DePaul

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — Jessica Shepard poured in the most points ever by a Notre Dame women’s basketball player at Purcell Pavilion, fellow junior Arike Ogunbowale added what had to be one of the more potent second halves ever, and still the Irish had to scramble to shake free of upset-driven DePaul on Sunday afternoon.

Blame that on “careless, careless mistakes” that helped lead to 19 turnovers, and on a defense “that completely fell asleep so many times,” according to coach Muffet McGraw.

Shepard struck for a career-high 39 points and Ogunbowale added 19 of her 21 after the intermission as No. 2-ranked Notre Dame downed the Blue Demons, 91-82, before a season-high home crowd of 8,503.

“I think we knew coming in we’d have the advantage in the post because they play five guards really,” said Shepard, a 6-foot-4 post who finished 17-of-22 from the field to go with 5-of-6 at the line.

“The girls just did a great job getting me the ball,” Shepard said. “I know Arike was a couple times very unselfish, kind of dribbled in there, could’ve shot in the lane, but (teammates) passed off because they knew I was making them.”

Shepard finished just two points shy of the single-game program record of 41 set by Ruth Riley in January 1999 at Providence and tied by Jewell Loyd in December 2014 at DePaul.

Riley held the previous Purcell standard of 36 points, which she accomplished twice.

“Just a phenomenal game,” McGraw said of Shepard, the transfer from Nebraska whose previous career high was 35 on two occasions for the Cornhuskers. “To dominate the game inside like she did, that’s what we hoped she could do, what we knew she could do, and I think the team did a very good job looking for her today.”

Shepard added a game-high 11 rebounds, three blocked shots and three assists.

“She’s got great inside ability with her strength,” said DePaul coach Doug Bruno, “but … she’s also got great vision, she’s got great passing skills, and she knows how to run Notre Dame’s offense in a way that allows her to be a post facilitator, so the offense can run through her or run to her. Not all the post players in Muffet’s scheme have been able to do both.”

Shepard already had 26 points by halftime, going 13-of-17 from the field, but the Irish (10-1) held just a 41-40 lead.

Ogunbowale went 1-of-9 from the field in that opening half, but then went 7-of-8 after the break, including 3-of-4 on 3-pointers.

Still, in a game featuring 12 ties and four lead changes, ND didn’t begin to break free of the Demons until scoring the first eight points of the fourth quarter for a 68-58 advantage.

After that, the Irish led by as many as 14 at 74-60 with 4:36 to go, though DePaul got as close as 81-75 with 58 seconds remaining.

“If we could play both ends of the floor, we would be a great team,” McGraw said. “That’s what we’re waiting for. We’re waiting for the defense to kick in. I know we can score. We’ve got a lot of weapons on offense. We just don’t have the commitment to defense right now.”

DePaul (7-4) hit 13-of-36 on 3-pointers.

It didn’t matter much to McGraw, though, that those figures are right around the Demons’ norm per game, nor did it matter much that the Irish racked up 13 blocked shots, tying the third-best single-game effort in team history.

“Imagine how good we could be,” she said with a shrug to the blocked-shot output.

“We get a lead and we immediately relax on defense because we want to rest,” McGraw said. “You have to be ready every single possession. … We just completely fell asleep so many times. (It’s) really, really disappointing.”

ND's Marina Mabrey had 13 points, eight rebounds, a game-high six assists and in the fourth quarter went 6-of-6 at the line.

Kathryn Westbeld added a season-high 10 points, and Lili Thompson made a game-high four steals off the bench.

Jackie Young, after suffering a broken nose Friday in practice, wore a mask that she fidgeted with several times.

Averaging 14.5 points going into the game, the sophomore finished with four, including 1-of-6 shooting from the field, but she added seven rebounds, a game-high four blocked shots and four assists in 36 minutes.

“She just couldn’t see anything,” McGraw said of Young and the mask. “Luckily she was still able to rebound.”

Young’s expected to need facial protection for six weeks, but will soon get a mask that’s custom-fit, according to McGraw, as opposed to Sunday’s that was “kind of put together in the training room.”

The Demons were paced by junior Ashton Millender with 18 points. Senior Amarah Coleman scored 17 and sophomore Chante Stonewall came off the bench to net 16 and go 4-of-4 outside the arc.

The Irish play at home Wednesday at 3 p.m. against Marquette.

Notre Dame's Jessica Shepard (23) shoots over DePaul's Kelly Campbell (20) on her way to 39 points in a 91-82 Irish win, Sunday at Purcell Pavilion. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)