Women's basketball: Shorthanded ND comes up short at N.C. State

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

With center Lauren Ebo joining guard Dara Mabrey as sidelined Notre Dame women’s basketball players, the shorthanded Irish came up short at North Carolina State on Sunday afternoon.

No. 7-ranked ND — despite trimming a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to two — lost 69-65 to the No. 20 Wolfpack before a fired-up sellout crowd of 5,500 at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh.

Ebo, who had just moved into the starting lineup a game earlier in response to Mabrey’s season-ending knee injury, was out with what coach Niele Ivey described as “a lower body injury.”

Ivey said there’s “no timetable right now” for Ebo’s return, but added that “she just needed rest today.” The coach said she only became aware Saturday that Ebo would not play.

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Despite Maddy Westbeld's 19 points and 13 rebounds, No. 7 Notre Dame fell to N.C. State Sunday afternoon in Raleigh, N.C. Westbeld is shown here on January 15 at Syracuse.

Forward Maddy Westbeld stepped up to score 19 points and grab game and season highs of 13 rebounds for the Irish.

Olivia Miles added 13 points, six assists and three steals on her 20th birthday, but also committed five turnovers. Fellow sophomore guard Sonia Citron scored 11 points, but was just 3-of-12 from the field.

Freshman wing Cass Prosper netted 11 points in a season-high 26 minutes off the bench and was central to ND’s late rally.

NC State guard Diamond Johnson riddled the Irish all afternoon with 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists to go with 4-of-9 shooting from distance.

Despite the loss, ND (17-3, 8-2) remained exactly tied atop the Athletic Conference with Duke thanks to No. 24 Florida State’s 70-57 win over the visiting No. 16 Blue Devils.

The Seminoles are 8-3 and No. 15 North Carolina 7-3, while the Pack (16-5, 6-4) are among four clubs with four league losses.

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► The Irish had to alter their rotation and their approach on short notice with Ebo out. The grad transfer was averaging 9.9 points and 7.0 rebounds while also serving as ND’s leader in clogging the lane defensively.

Freshman swing KK Bransford made her first collegiate start as ND went back to its more traditional three-guard look after opening with three frontliners in Thursday’s win over Florida State.

Bransford, who was averaging 8.7 points — including 12.5 over her previous two games — finished with four on 2-of-6 shooting in 22 minutes.

Minus Ebo, fellow post Kylee Watson played easily her most minutes in any of the last 12 games with 32, but she came away with just two points on two shots.

Forward Nat Marshall, after not playing in the first half, contributed five points off the bench over eight minutes in the second half.

Ivey indicated she’ll continue to sort through options before ND’s next game, particularly if Ebo’s not back.

Freshman Cass Prosper, shown Jan. 26 at Purcell Pavilion, spurred a fourth quarter rally that fell short at N.C. State Sunday.

► Ivey had no hesitation in using Prosper, despite the early enrollee being ND’s newest and youngest player at 17 years, 7 months.

Prosper paid on that confidence.

Twice in the third quarter, plays appeared to be run directly for her off timeouts, and she scored on each.

In the fourth period, Prosper swished back-to-back 3-pointers from the left side, capping an 11-0 run that brought ND to within 62-59 at the 4:36 mark.

“I thought Cass was phenomenal, a huge spark off the bench today,” Ivey said. “She’s still growing and learning, so I was really proud of her. … She was a big bright spot for us.”

Prosper’s length was also a factor in the press the Irish utilized to help them get back into the game.

They trailed by as many as 16 points in the third quarter — a season-high deficit — and were down 62-48 with 8:42 left in the fourth before storming back.

ND got as close as 65-63 with 2:32 remaining on a Citron drive, but Johnson scored the next four points to help the Pack secure the win.

“I felt like Diamond Johnson just really took over,” Ivey said. “She was fantastic.”

At both ends, as were her teammates.

“The NC State defense was really tough,” Ivey said, speaking particularly to how the Irish struggled to even get off a shot with time of the essence in the final minute. “We were just trying to find different gaps with the things we were running. We had a couple specific plays we were looking at, but I feel like they defended us well.”

► Westbeld said she felt as if she had to deliver with two of ND’s other major contributors on the season sidelined, and not only did the junior have those 19 points and 13 rebounds, but she mixed in a pair of steals and a block.

She made 8-of-21 shots from the field, including 3-of-9 on 3-pointers.

“I think we all knew going into the game that everybody had to give a little bit more,” Westbeld said. “I knew that with people out, I had to be more aggressive on the glass, and with Dara out, obviously they were going to pack it in (at times), so the 3 was going to be open.”

Ultimately, however, the Irish closed just 28-of-68 from the field (38%) with six 3-pointers in 23 tries, to NC State’s 27-of-60 (45%) with seven in 17 tries.

“Turning the ball over and shot selection really ignited their break,” Ivey said after the Pack outscored ND 14-9 on fast-break points. “I felt like it was what kind of turned the corner and separated them from us in the third quarter.”

Conversely, the coach said she was pleased by how much the press helped the Irish climb back into the game.

“I was proud of the fight we had,” Ivey said.

Up next

The Irish head to Boston College (14-10, 4-7) for their first rematch of the season Thursday.

ND beat the visiting Eagles 85-48 on New Year’s Day.

No. 20 NC State 69, No. 7 Notre Dame 65NOTRE DAME (17-3): Watson 1-2 0-0 2, Westbeld 8-21 0-0 19, Bransford 2-6 0-0 4, Citron 3-12 4-4 11, Miles 6-14 1-3 13, Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Prosper 4-10 1-2 11, Marshall 2-3 1-2 5, Totals 26-68 7-11 65NC STATE (16-5): Collins 6-8 0-1 13, Hobby 2-7 4-4 8, Brown-Turner 3-7 0-0 7, Hayes 2-7 2-3 7, Johnson 7-15 2-2 20, Boyd 3-5 0-0 6, Baldwin 1-2 0-0 2, Rivers 3-8 0-0 6, James 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 27-60 8-10 69

Notre Dame2091719— 65
N.C. State15192411— 69

3-Point Goals_Notre Dame 6-23 (Westbeld 3-9, Bransford 0-2, Citron 1-6, Miles 0-2, Prosper 2-4), NC State 7-17 (Collins 1-2, Brown-Turner 1-3, Hayes 1-2, Johnson 4-9, Rivers 0-1). Assists_Notre Dame 15 (Miles 5, Westbeld 5), NC State 14 (Johnson 5). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Notre Dame 44 (Westbeld 13), NC State 33 (Johnson 8). Total Fouls_Notre Dame 12, NC State 13. Technical Fouls_None. A_5,500.