Notre Dame rally falls short against Michigan State

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND —  Notre Dame’s fourth-quarter charge from behind with its mostly young group still learning each other, and with two players still sidelined due to injury and illness, might’ve excited coach Muffet McGraw under some circumstances.

Not with the circumstances that were present in this one, though.

“I was just so disappointed with the lack of focus by a couple of them today,” McGraw said of her players after No. 16 Michigan State held off the No. 15 Irish, 72-69, in women’s college basketball Thursday night at Purcell Pavilion.

“We can’t afford a lot of mistakes, because we have six people,” McGraw said. “Everybody’s gotta come and bring their game, and if you don’t do that, you’re really letting the team down.”

With sophomore guard Nia Clouden pouring in 28 points — including a career-high four 3-pointers just within the first four minutes to lift the Spartans to a 17-4 lead — Michigan State (3-0) sent Notre Dame (2-2) to its second consecutive loss.

It marked the first time the Irish have dropped back-to-back games anywhere since November 2010, the first time they’ve lost consecutive home games since January 2008 and it was their first loss to a Big Ten team in their last 24 such matchups, spanning more than 10 years.

Even with its early 13-point hole, and a trio of 11-point deficits during the final two minutes of the third quarter, ND still scrapped to get as close as 58-57 with 5:30 left and 70-69 with 10.2 seconds remaining.

MSU’s Taryn McCutcheon answered that latter count with a pair of free throws with 9.7 showing, before Sam Brunelle’s 3-point try just in front of the final horn went off the back iron.

“I thought Sam played very well — she was the lone bright spot in the game tonight,” McGraw said after the freshman scored 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots, all team highs.

Brunelle shared her coach’s frustration, however.

“We have so much potential that we have yet to reach,” the 6-foot-2 forward said. “We do things in practice that we need to translate over to the game. We need to be more fluid and consistent with each and every quarter. We can’t just fight for the last two quarters.”

A bevy of problems were present for Notre Dame.

“We gave them the 17 to 4 lead with our inability to guard,” McGraw said. “That was probably the most disappointing part of the game. Aside from (Clouden), we just beat ourselves. We had so many opportunities, free throws (ND went 18-of-31 at the line to the visitors’ 14-of-16), so many things we could’ve controlled and we didn’t. It looked like an experienced team playing a bunch of freshmen, and that’s what it was, but I think our mistakes were really inexcusable.”

ND coughed up the ball frequently in largely unforced manners.

“The way we’re turning it over is just … it’s beyond me,” McGraw said after her team finished with 18 giveaways.. “It doesn’t happen in practice, so it’s all just game slippage and lack of focus.”

Sophomore Katlyn Gilbert matched Brunelle’s 19 points for the Irish and added four steals, but committed eight turnovers.

Freshman Anaya Peoples finished with 15 points and contributed a series of sweet plays during the fourth-quarter rally, but also closed just 3-of-7 at the line and got into early foul trouble, causing her to be limited to 26 minutes.

Sophomore Danielle Cosgrove came off the bench to score a career-high 12 points in 14 minutes. Destinee Walker, who was averaging 15.7 points entering the evening, scored just four and appeared to be unaware of the shot clock ticking toward zero on at least a couple occasions.

Fellow grad transfer Marta Sniezek dealt a game-high eight assists and again demonstrated a flair for drawing charges, but never scored in 38 minutes.

The Spartans broke a seven-game losing skid against Notre Dame, winning for the first time in the series since an overtime road victory in December 2004.

“The last seven or eight years,” MSU coach Suzy Merchant said of the Irish, “they’ve had such a powerful group of kids that you could do everything possible and have the exact best game plan, and I’m not sure you were coming out with a win, especially here with their fan base.”

On Thursday, though, the Spartans managed to win even without one of their best players.

Senior guard Shay Colley, who averaged 14.1 points last season and is MSU’s leading rebounder at 8.0 this season, missed the game due to her participation this week in a Canadian national team qualifier.

McCutcheon had 12 points and five assists for the Spartans.

Notre Dame caps its four-game homestand Wednesday when Toledo visits.

MICHIGAN STATE (72): Victoria Gaines 2-8 0-0 4, Tory Ozment 2-4 2-2 8, Taryn McCutcheon 3-12 5-6 12, Moira Joiner 3-5 0-0 7, Nia Clouden 9-21 6-6 28, Nia Hollie 2-3 0-0 4, Kayla Belles 1-2 0-0 2, Julia Ayrault 1-3 0-0 2, Mardrekia Cook 2-3 1-2 5, Taiyier Parks 0-0 0-0 0, Alyza Winston 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS: 25-62 14-16 72

NOTRE DAME (69): Sam Brunelle 7-13 3-6 19, Katlyn Gilbert 8-16 3-4 19, Marta Sniezek 0-3 0-0 0, Anaya Peoples 6-10 3-7 15, Destinee Walker 0-2 4-6 4, Danielle Cosgrove 3-5 5-8 12, Kaitlin Cole 0-1 0-0 0. TOTALS: 24-50 18-31 69.

3-point: MSU 8-23 (Gaines 0-1, Ozment 2-4, McCutcheon 1-7, Joiner 1-1, Clouden 4-9, Cook 0-1). Notre Dame 3-8 (Brunelle 2-6, Walker 0-1, Cosgrove 1-1). Fouls (fouled out): Michigan State 27 (none), Notre Dame 18 (none). Rebounds: Michigan State 39 (Gaines 6, Hollie 6), Notre Dame 30 (Brunelle 8, Cosgrove 5). Turnovers: Michigan State 20 (Gaines 3, Clouden 3, Hollie 3), Notre Dame 18 (Gilbert 8)

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw is shown on the sideline during the Nov. 11 game against Tennessee at Purcell Pavilion.