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Eric Retter | Monday, January 23, 2006

The last time the Irish played a road game against Georgetown, they squandered a six-point lead with 43 seconds to go and fell 76-73.

On Saturday, McDonough Arena almost struck again.

Notre Dame, who never trailed and dominated play for the first 30 minutes, watched a 12-point lead virtually evaporate inside the last five minutes, barely hanging on to escape with a 54-52 win.

The Irish jumped out to an early 19-6 lead in the first nine minutes of the contest with points coming from five scorers, including two three-pointers from point guard Megan Duffy. Guard Bethany Lesueur was the sole offensive threat for the Hoyas, scoring all six of their early points.

As the half progressed, the Irish continued to control the action, taking a comfortable 32-18 lead into halftime.

“I thought we played well defensively the first 30 minutes,” McGraw said.

After halftime, the early action resembled what had happened all game, with Notre Dame in control. The Irish continued to increase their lead, and it peaked at 17 points when Duffy – who finished with a team-high 16 points – stole the ball from Kieraah Marlow and took it all the way for a lay-up, giving the Irish a 46-29 lead with 11:55 to go in the contest.

Shortly thereafter, things began to unravel.

After a lay-up by sophomore Charel Allen again gave Notre Dame a 17-point 50-33 lead with just over 10 minutes to play, the Irish offense completely shut down. Over the next 7:30, the Irish failed to score on eight of their next nine possessions, the lone exception being a lay-up by Duffy with 7:15 to go, which proved to be the final Irish field goal.

“Four points in 10 minutes has to be a record for us,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said of Notre Dame’s anemic offense down the stretch.

At the same time, the Irish turned the ball over five times, including twice by center Melissa D’Amico.

“We played scared – we choked,” McGraw said.

While the Notre Dame offense was falling apart, the Georgetown offense began to find its stride. The Hoyas, who cut the Irish lead down to 52-48 with 2:44 left to play, were able to be successful in large part because of 7-of-8 shooting from the free throw line during the run, the lone miss coming from Lesueur, who still finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds, both game highs.

“[She] had a great game,” McGraw said of Lesueur after the game.

After a pair of Duffy free throws gave the Irish a 54-48 lead with 2:34 to go, the only offense on the floor for the rest of the game would come from the Hoyas. Georgetown scored on both of its next two possessions, trimming the lead to two with 1:17 remaining and looked prepared to take its first lead at the most important time.

But the Notre Dame defense held strong, and guard Breona Gray’s steal with 15 seconds left led to a foul that gave the Irish a chance to ice the game.

However, Gray missed the front-end of a 1-and-1, and it wasn’t until Kate Carlin missed a 3-pointer with one second to go that the Notre Dame team could finally breathe a sigh of relief and begin moving up in the Big East standings, where the Irish are now 3-3 in conference.

“We were lucky to win,” McGraw said.