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ND Women’s Basketball

Top-ranked Irish overcome early deficit to defeat Hokies 80-51

and | Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Looking to stay unbeaten in conference play, No. 1 Notre Dame overcame a slow start on the road to beat Virginia Tech 80-51 and move to 5-0 in the ACC.

The Irish (17-1, 5-0 ACC) found themselves in a reasonably unfamiliar position Wednesday night, as the country’s No. 1 squad was down right from the beginning of the game as the Hokies (13-4, 0-4 ACC) got off to a hot start.

Virginia Tech jumped out to a 3-0 lead on a 3-pointer by senior guard Taylor Emery, and quickly advanced to a as much as a nine-point lead at 11-2, as Notre Dame missed shot after shot. But the Irish went on an 8-2 run to pull the score within three and kept the game close, as the clock on the first quarter ticked down. The Irish also turned up the defensive intensity, holding Virginia Tech to just two points in the quarter’s final two minutes, and Notre Dame made it a one-possession game at 20-18.

Annie Smierciak
Irish senior forward Jessica Shepard and graduate student forward Brianna Turner reach to alter the shot of a Connecticut opponent during Notre Dame’s 89-71 loss to the Huskies at Purcell Pavilion on Dec. 2.

Within two minutes of the second quarter, however, the Irish offense had found its groove. A clutch 3-pointer by Irish senior guard Marina Mabrey, followed by a turnover by her sister, freshman Hokie guard Dara Mabrey, led to senior guard Arike Ogunbowale taking the ball all the way to give Notre Dame its first lead of the game.

“We didn’t come out ready,” head coach Muffet McGraw said. “They gave us a knockout punch, fortunately we took it and then gave them one of our own. I thought Marina kept us in the game in the first quarter and that was really, really important to us. And then we chipped away and got the lead going into halftime.”

This game posed a new storyline for the world of women’s college basketball. While a pair of Mabrey sisters playing on the same court is nothing new for fans of the sport, as Marina and her older sister Michaela played alongside one another at Notre Dame for a year, when Marina was a freshman and Michaela was a senior, Wednesday’s Mabrey matchup had a new look to it: Mabreys on opposing teams, as Dara elected to attend another ACC opponent for her playing career. In what will likely be the sisters’ lone collegiate battle, it was the elder Mabrey who came out ahead.

“Just being able to experience that at such a high level in the ACC, a lot of people don’t get to experience that,” Marina said. “Just cherishing this moment because that probably won’t happen again.”

Marina said her advice to her sister following her five-point performance was to keep her head up and keep playing despite a rough start to the ACC season.

Once the Irish claimed the lead, they would not relinquish it for the remainder of the game. Notre Dame quickly found itself in the midst of a 14-0 run, with almost all the points coming in the paint. However, the Hokies responded with a 9-0 run of their own, kicked off when graduate student forward Brianna Turner committed a foul on Virginia Tech redshirt-senior forward Regan Magarity with just over five minutes left to play in the half. The Irish shooting began to take the shape of its first-quarter offense, as the misses continued to pile up and shots refused to drop, but eventually a pair of free throws by Irish senior forward Jessica Shepard with two seconds on the clock extended Notre Dame’s lead to 44-34 heading into halftime.

Coming out of the locker room, the Irish hit the court with a renewed energy. The 10-point lead quickly turned to 15, and then to 17, and within minutes it was 26 points and the game appeared to be out of reach for the Hokies, as Shepard, Mabrey and Ogunbowale continued to add to their point totals on the evening. Virginia Tech struggled from the field in the second half, shooting just 23 percent from the field in the game’s final 20 minutes. Notre Dame’s lead continued to hang in the high-20s throughout the remainder of the game as each team only recorded seven points each in the final quarter. Sophomore forward Danielle Patterson contributed eight points and seven rebounds off the bench along with freshman guard Jordan Nixon’s two points.

“We’re a powerful offensive team and we’ve got a lot of weapons,” McGraw said. “Really any of the five are capable of having a big game for us. It’s just a question of who’s it going to be.”

For McGraw, the biggest takeaway from Wednesday’s game was her team’s improved defense, a weakness she’s noted since the season opener.

“I thought they just played with a great knowledge of who we’re trying to guard, when we had to bump on the wing, when we didn’t,” McGraw said. “I was really pleased with how smart we’re playing defensively.”

The Irish will return to Purcell Pavilion on Sunday to host Boston College. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.

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About Elizabeth Greason

Elizabeth is a senior studying civil engineering from New York, NY (yes, the actual city). She is a proud resident assistant in McGlinn Hall and is a die-hard Mets and Giants fan. She is currently serving as assistant managing editor of The Observer and she also has an obsession with golf that is bordering on unhealthy.

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