Jessica Shepard, Jackie Young help Notre Dame slice up Orange
SOUTH BEND — Jessica Shepard on her bum ankle and Jackie Young with her bum nose played leading roles in saving Notre Dame from being bummed in a couple unprecedented manners on its home court.
Shepard scored 24 points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds two days after suffering a sprained ankle in practice that had left her status in doubt, while Young in her new mask matched her career high with 23 points as the No. 2-ranked Irish pulled away late for an 87-72 women’s basketball victory over Syracuse on Thursday at Purcell Pavilion.
ND (12-1), playing its fifth Atlantic Coast Conference season opener, improved to 33-0 all-time at home in ACC play and moved to 16-0 all-time at home against the Orange (12-2).
Notre Dame owned small leads much of the evening, and fell behind twice midway through the third quarter at 50-49 and 52-51, but answered that second deficit with an 11-0 spree to take the lead for good.
The Irish led 64-58 after three periods and stretched their advantage to highs of 79-61 and 81-63 midway through the closing quarter.
Young — who had gone 6-of-19 from the field over her previous two games on the heels of suffering a broken nose in practice — finished 10-of-16 on Thursday. The sophomore wore a clear, sleek, custom-made mask that replaced the cumbersome, strap-filled temporary one she’d worn in those first two games since the injury.
Kathryn Westbeld scored 16 points to finish one short of her career high for ND. The senior, who also made four steals, drilled all three of her 3-point tries.
Westbeld had attempted just two shots outside the arc this season going into the game, making one.
Arike Ogunbowale, averaging 20.8 points going in, matched her season low with 12 points, but that still gave the Irish four players in double figures.
Marina Mabrey added nine points and a team-high five assists.
Lili Thompson delivered a spark off the bench, particularly in the second half, when she made three of her four steals.
Syracuse’s Tiana Mangakahia led all scorers with 26 points. Averaging a nation-leading 10.8 assists going into the game, the 5-foot-6 sophomore added eight of those and nine rebounds, but also finished with eight turnovers.
Miranda Drummond added 15 points for the Orange.
The Irish, who have struggled much of the season outside the arc, drained 7-of-14 3-pointers against primarily the Syracuse zone.
Notre Dame led 42-38 at halftime.
The Irish bolted to a 15-6 advantage to start the game, hitting their first five field-goal tries along the way, but went just 9-of-28 the rest of the half.
The Orange scored nine straight points for a 15-15 deadlock, but that was their only tie to go with no leads in the opening half.
After being outscored 10-2 on second-chance points in the opening half and being outrebounded 27-17, Notre Dame responded with a 23-12 board advantage after the break.
The Irish return to action Sunday when they visit Wake Forest for a 1 p.m. New Year’s Eve matchup. It will be the ACC opener for the Demon Deacons (8-5), as well their first game in 10 days.
All of Notre Dame’s 16 remaining regular-season games — including the team’s one remaining foray out of the league on Thursday, Jan. 18, when it hosts Tennessee — are scheduled for a Thursday or Sunday.
Syracuse marked ND’s first Thursday contest this season. The Irish stand 3-1 on Sundays, the loss coming against No. 1 Connecticut.