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Irish best third-ranked Wolfpack for signature win

| Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Notre Dame held on for a thrilling 69-66 win over third-ranked North Carolina State Tuesday night. The Irish led for nearly the entire game, but the Wolfpack made a furious fourth quarter comeback before watching their potential game-tying three pointer bounce harmlessly off the rim. 

It was a signature win for the 20th-ranked Irish, who move to 10-0 this year at Purcell Pavilion, their best start at home since the 2017-18 National Championship campaign. The Wolfpack had been 10-0 in conference play and had won their previous nine contests. 

“I’m just so proud of this group,” head coach Niele Ivey said after the game. “It was a huge challenge, and the fact that our team rose to that challenge and came out victorious, it’s a dream.”

Just over two years ago, North Carolina State dominated Notre Dame in South Bend 90-56 in the last matchup between these two sides. The Irish were in the midst of a disappointing 13-18 campaign in legendary head coach Muffett McGraw’s final season.

This contest was clearly different right from the opening tip off. After the Wolfpack hit two three pointers, the Irish went on an early 8-0 run to give them a 10-6 lead. Back-to-back baskets from senior forward Maya Dodson gave the Irish a 17-13 after the first quarter, which they wouldn’t relinquish. Dodson paced the Irish with 20 points and ten rebounds on 9-14 shooting from the field. 

The Irish suffered two significant blows within several minutes of each other in the second quarter, as both junior forward Sam Brunelle and senior guard Abby Prohaska were forced to leave the game with injuries after contact under the basket. 

While neither play was called a foul, the Irish faithful were clearly upset with the Wolfpack players. Freshman guard Sonja Citron caught an elbow to the chin right before halftime — another no call — and North Carolina State exited the floor to a shower of boos. Brunelle was able to check back in midway through the third quarter and finished with ten points. 

“It was emotional,” Dodson said of the locker room at halftime. “You know how hard they work and they’re in pain, but we knew we had to focus and we had to lock in, and the best way to do that was to win this game for them.”

The Irish took a 32-28 lead into the break in large part thanks to Dodson’s near double-double in the first half. She finished the opening two quarters with ten points and eight rebounds — six of which were on the offensive end. She stayed hot to open the third, scoring the first four points to extend the lead.  

“I know as a leader and one of the oldest on the team, I have to bring it. I lead by example,” Dodson said. “I want to make sure every time I go out there, every time I’m in front of these fans, [I] show how much passion, how much hard work, and how much we appreciate them.”

A crafty reverse layup by freshman guard Olivia Miles gave the Irish their first double-digit lead, forcing the Wolfpack into a timeout. The Wolfpack stayed within striking distance, but the Irish took a nine-point lead into the final frame. 

It was a poor shooting night from both Miles and Citron, after the pair swept ACC honors last week. Citron was named freshman of the week and Miles was named player of the week Monday after her 30 point outburst against Boston College. The pair combined for just 6-28 from the field, but each knocked down a pair of late free throws to help preserve the Irish lead. 

“So many people in so many moments made big plays,” Ivey said. 

The Wolfpack cut the deficit to three with just under three minutes to play, and after both teams turned the ball over, split a pair of free throws. Miles and Citron were cool under pressure, knocking down four free throws to extend the lead to six with just under a minute to go. 

The Wolfpack converted an and-one to again make it a one possession game, and had a chance to tie on the final possession of the game, but missed two three pointers and the Irish held on for the thrilling victory. 

“What I was really pleased about is that they went on a run and we didn’t panic,” Ivey said. “Early on in the season, we would fall apart and so that just shows a lot of growth.”

It was Ivey’s first top five win as a coach at Notre Dame. “It means everything,” she said. “That’s the reason I came back, because of my love of this university and my love of this program, and to be able to share these moments with these young women and mentor them.”

Notre Dame now must look to avoid a let down as they host Virginia Tech Thursday night in what will be a quick turnaround. That game tips off at 8 pm and will be broadcast on ACC Network. 

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