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Notre Dame drops second straight home matchup

| Friday, November 15, 2019

Coming off a tough loss at home against Tennessee, the Notre Dame looked to bounce back against another challenging opponent, No. 16 Michigan State. The Irish were dominated inside by the size and strength of Tennessee, and looked to turn that around against the Spartans. However, Michigan State was able to mix inside scoring and high volume 3-point shooting to beat Notre Dame 72-69 in a game the Irish never led. 

Isabel Patacsil | The Observer
Irish graduate student guard Marta Sniezek dribbles into the lane during Notre Dame’s 69-72 loss to Michigan State on Nov. 14.

Michigan State was playing without their leading scorer, senior guard Shay Colley, who is playing with Team Canada in Olympic qualifying events this week, but they still had a number of scoring threats to turn to.

Sophomore guard Katlyn Gilbert and freshman forward Sam Brunelle finished with 19 points apiece to lead the Irish. Gilbert was able to score effectively, but finished with eight turnovers. Irish head coach Muffet McGraw was especially pleased with Brunelle’s performance.

“I thought Sam played very well. She was the lone bright spot in the game today,” McGraw said.

Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant also spoke to how difficult Brunelle was to game plan against.

“She’s so quick. The one time we switched and didn’t get into her, she got a 3 late in the game. She’s so good like that, you have to [always] worry about where she’s at,” Merchant said.

Spartans sophomore guard Nia Clouden started the game red hot from deep, making three 3-pointers in the first three minutes, and McGraw was forced to call an early timeout while trailing 9-2. Clouden finished with 28 points. The timeout slowed the Spartans momentum, but their stout defense made it difficult for Notre Dame to get anything going offensively. The first quarter ended with Michigan State leading 17-10. 

McGraw praised Clouden’s performance, but was upset with her team’s mistakes.

“Our inability to get out and guard was probably the most difficult part of the game,” McGraw said. “Aside from [Clouden] I thought we just beat ourselves. We had so many opportunities. Free throws, so many [other] things we could have controlled and we didn’t. It looked like an experienced team playing a bunch of freshman, and that’s what it was. Our mistakes were really inexcusable. We can’t just keep saying that we’re young. We have to start focusing and executing and doing the things that we do in practice.”

The Irish missed 13 free throws and turned the ball over 18 times. McGraw was exasperated by the turnovers in particular.

“It doesn’t get more frustrating than that,” McGraw said. “The way we’re turning it over is beyond me.” 

Notre Dame started the second quarter with renewed vigor on defense, forcing three turnovers in the first two minutes to pull within three points. After trading baskets, a turnaround jumper by Gilbert brought the Irish to within one point, but Michigan State responded with five quick points. Every time Notre Dame got within a basket and the crowd got back into the game, it seemed Michigan State would respond with a timely basket to silence them. 

McGraw was forced to use her inexperienced, short bench frequently, both to counter the Spartans depth and because of early foul trouble. Sophomore forward Danielle Cosgrove played important minutes off the bench and finished with 12 points and five rebounds, including four offensive. 

To open the scoring in the second half, freshman guard Anaya Peoples finished a tough layup through contact, but picked up her fourth personal foul under a minute into the half, forcing her back to the bench after sitting most of the second quarter with three. Gilbert continued to get to the basket and score, but none of her teammates could find a sustained rhythm offensively. The Irish’s defense kept them in the game, as they kept forcing Michigan State into bad shots and turnovers. Michigan State finished the game with 20 turnovers. 

Much like the Tennessee game, the Irish struggled to keep the Spartans off the glass, often giving them second and even third attempts. They finished with 20 offensive rebounds Thursday.

Down by nine points entering the fourth quarter, the Irish immediately cut into the lead on a Cosgrove 3-pointer and a free throw by Peoples. After multiple free throws by the Spartans, Brunelle hit a deep 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to make it a one-possession game, and on the ensuing possession, Gilbert and Brunelle each split a pair of free throws to make it cut the deficit to just a point, but the Spartans answered with an easy layup to take a 3-point lead to the under-five media timeout. The Spartans then drilled a 3-pointer and ratcheted up the pressure on defense. A tough, spinning layup from Clouden all but sealed it. The Irish made multiple baskets in the last few minutes to keep it interesting, and another Brunelle 3-pointer made it a one-point game with ten seconds left, but the Spartans were able to make both free throws, and Brunelle’s game-tying attempt at the buzzer bounced out.

McGraw said she was upset with the effort of some of her players Thursday,

“I was just so disappointed with the lack of focus of a couple of them today,” McGraw said “We can’t afford to make a lot of mistakes. We have six people, and everybody’s got to come and bring their game. If you don’t do that, you’re really letting the team down,” she said. “We just have nobody else on the bench. It’s really difficult to watch somebody come in and do absolutely nothing. I think we can control that, and you have to come ready to play.”

Notre Dame will attempt to bounce back when they take on Toledo at home on Wednesday night.

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