Women's basketball: Big night for Citron as No. 24 Irish down Michigan State

By Anthony Anderson
ND Insider

Freshman Sonia Citron proved nearly perfect for Notre Dame at Michigan State, and really, she was precisely that with her shooting across a couple aspects.

Citron poured in 29 points — more than double her previous career high of 13 — and fellow frosh Olivia Miles flirted with a triple-double at 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists as the No. 24-ranked Irish notched a 76-71 victory over the Spartans in Thursday’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge women’s basketball game at the Breslin Center.

► One game at a time: A journey through Notre Dame's 2021-22 women’s basketball season

Citron finished 9-of-12 from the field, and taking into account her 3-of-4 from 3-point land, she closed at exactly 100% on adjusted field goal percentage. She added 8-of-8 at the line.

ND successfully navigated through foul trouble for season scoring leader Maddy Westbeld to improve to 7-1.

The Spartans (6-3), who suffered their first loss in their six home games, were led by All-Big Ten guard Nia Clouden with 20 points, six assists and six rebounds.

Top storylines

► Citron was scintillating, and in just her second true road game.

She was also as soft-spoken about it after as she was screamingly impactful during.

“I don’t really think about it,” Citron said of whether she surprised herself on the way to tallying 21 points in the second half, including 13 in the fourth quarter. “I didn’t really know I had 29 points. I just try to help my team win, and I’m just happy we won.”

Notre Dame's Sonia Citron, right, celebrates a 3-pointer with Olivia Miles during the fourth quarter in the game against Michigan State on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

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In 28 minutes off the bench, she added five rebounds and three assists.

“The way they were guarding the ball screens, I put her in a ton of ball screens to get her jumpers,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said of why Citron was able to go off. “They were going underneath, forcing us to be jump shooters. And she was hot.”

The 6-foot-1 guard-forward was continually crafty and efficient in her movement with and without the ball, scoring on back cuts, step outs, fast breaks and more.

“My teammates were doing a great job finding me,” Citron said. “I was just trying to create options.”

“She does so many things well,” Ivey said. “She was active in transition — Liv did a great job finding her — she’s always running the floor, she was aggressive offensively. I think she can almost be too unselfish passing up shots, but she has the green light, and she utilized it and took good shots. Her shot selection was phenomenal.”

Citron’s right-wing triple at 2:27 to go gave Notre Dame a 70-62 lead, and she followed that with her lone steal to help secure the win.

► On an evening she wasn’t even her team’s most head-turning freshman, Miles still almost recorded what would’ve been just the second-ever triple-double by an ND frosh.

She finished with just three turnovers, too, against those eight assists, and she steered an Irish offense that had just four turnovers as a group in the second half of a tight game.

“It’s hard,” said Ivey, a former Irish star point guard, of the role Miles has filled ever since arriving as an early enrollee in January, “because you have to know everybody’s position. It’s a lot that you have to carry, so I’m trying to kind of open the floor to give her space and freedom, and I just think she’s thriving. I’m really proud of all the work she’s putting in, but she’s also learning. She’s asking a lot of questions. She’s coachable.”

► Notre Dame, often reliant on sophomore Maddy Westbeld, stretched its lead without its season scoring leader on the floor for a stretch of 7:35 in the second half.

Westbeld headed to the bench upon picking up her fourth foul at 52 seconds to go in the third quarter. MSU’s resulting 1-of-2 at the line trimmed its deficit to 53-50.

Michigan State's Nia Clouden, left, and Notre Dame's Maddy Westbeld battle for the ball during the third quarter on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

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When Westbeld returned at 3:17 to go in the fourth, the Irish were up 67-62.

“What’s great about this team is when one person’s down with foul trouble or whatever the case may be, we have so many great players coming off the bench who can really help us,” Ivey said.

Not only did Citron bring her 29 points from the bench, but sophomore forward Nat Marshall added eight points in 14 minutes off the bench.

Worth noting

Grad student forward Maya Dodson blocked six Spartan shots before fouling out with two seconds left.

Her previous career high was four blocks, accomplished on seven occasions between her time at Notre Dame and Stanford.

Michigan State's band spells out a message to the Fighting Irish's recent football coach during the third quarter in the game against Notre Dame on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

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Who's hot

Citron from the free throw line. She has started her ND career 21-of-23 at the stripe.

Who's not

Sam Brunelle, although she didn’t have much time to show otherwise.

Brunelle logged just four minutes, all in the first half, and did not attempt a shot.

“Sometimes, it’s just a feel,” Ivey said of her substitution choices. “So tonight, I thought Nat just really stepped up for us. (Sam’s) OK. I expect her to help us versus UConn and bring what she normally brings.”

After averaging 14 points over her first three games this season, Brunelle has just seven total points across 41 minutes in her last four games.

Up next

The Irish visit No. 2 Connecticut. The Huskies stand 3-1 with a 73-57 loss to top-ranked South Carolina heading into their Friday night game at Seton Hall.

Michigan State's Taiyier Parks, right, blocks a shot by Notre Dame's Dara Mabrey during the third quarter on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

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