ND Women’s Basketball
Notre Dame withstands late run, beats Syracuse 72-70
Liam Coolican | Monday, February 24, 2020
The Notre Dame women’s basketball team (11-17, 6-10 ACC) bounced back from a three game losing streak on Sunday afternoon, beating Syracuse (15-12, 9-7 ACC) 72-70. Notre Dame was led by junior center Mikayla Vaughn who scored a career high 21 points. Head coach Muffet McGraw had high praise for Vaughn, who made a number of key plays down the stretch including taking a charge late in the fourth quarter and knocking down two important free throws.
“Mikayla Vaughn was the player of the game for me,” McGraw said. “She was fantastic.”
The Irish also received big contributions from freshman forward Sam Brunelle, who scored 15 points and grabbed 9 rebounds, and graduate student guard Destinee Walker, who chipped in 16 points.
Notre Dame got off to a blistering start, beginning the game with a 23-5 run, going eight for 10 shooting.
“We finally got off to a great start,” McGraw said. “I thought that was obviously key. Now we know if we get up 17 or 20, we have a chance to win it by two.”
The Irish led 27-11 after the first quarter. The teams traded baskets to open the second quarter, but Notre Dame continued to score the basketball at a high clip, and the game went to halftime with the Irish leading 44-33.
Both teams came out of the break cold, struggling to maintain possession or score the basketball. A personal 6-0 run from Walker extended the Irish lead to 60-45, but Syracuse answered with a 9-2 run of their own to close the third quarter.
Syracuse scored the first four points of the final period to cut the lead to just four, and after Vaughn hit two free throws, scored the next five points to cut the Notre Dame lead to one point with just over 5 minutes to play. Sophomore guard Katlyn Gilbert drilled a jumper and on the next possession scored in the paint, giving the Irish a 60-55 lead. Syracuse immediately answered with a three pointer, and forced an Irish turnover, but Vaughn was there to take a big charge and give the Irish the ball back. However, Gilbert missed a jumper and after a Vaughn foul, Syracuse sunk two free throws to tie the game with just over a minute left. On the next possession, Vaughn was fouled inside and knocked down her two free throws for what would be the last points of the game.
The last minute was sloppy, with both teams turning the ball over, but Notre Dame was able to withstand Syracuse’s pressure and escape with the victory. McGraw was frustrated with her team’s fourth quarter performance.
“We wavered quite a bit in the fourth quarter,” McGraw said. “I think we got really nervous when the game got close and nobody really wanted to shoot.”
After the game, she pinpointed turnovers as something her team needed to improve upon.
“I think we just need to be smarter. We threw it directly to them a number of times, trying to pass the ball through their hands,” she said.
Additionally, she thought the team needs to improve their second-half defense.
“We just have to be able to guard them a little bit better,” McGraw said.
However, she was pleased her team could come away with the victory, especially after failing to close out games like this throughout the season.
Notre Dame has just two regular season games left before the ACC tournament. They face North Carolina in their next game on Thursday at 7 p.m. at home.