Determined to put a lost opportunity in last Sunday’s 80-71 loss at No. 1 Connecticut behind them, Notre Dame exploded out of the gates Wednesday night in its first home game in eight contests with a 90-59 romp versus Michigan State at Purcell Pavilion in front of an attendance of 8,091.
Junior guard Arike Ogunbowale, the nation’s No. 30 scorer (20.5 points per game), paced the Irish with 23 points while classmate Jessica Shepard tallied 19. Especially notable was fifth-year senior guard Lili Thompson’s double-double with 12 points and a game high 10 rebounds — all 5-7 of her — while also handing out a team high four assists.
Notre Dame jumped to a 7-0 advantage in the first minute, expanded it to 11-0 before the Spartans scored, and were never threatened during a dominant first half performance in which they held a 47-16 lead at the intermission.
By halftime the Fighting Irish were 16 of 25 from the floor (64 percent), 3 of 5 from three-point range and 12 of 16 from the line. They also assisted on 10 of the 16 buckets. Conversely, the Spartans were 6 of 32 (18.8 percent) from the floor in the first half and finished 30.8 percent for the game
The physical contest also the Irish convert 28-of-35 free throws (80 percent) and hold a 34-20 scoring advantage in the paint.
“Coach put a big emphasis on getting the ball inside, and the guards did a great job of getting it in,” said Shepard, who converted 7-of-11 from the field.
Notre Dame will play at Penn — head coach Muffet McGraw’s hometown — on Saturday before taking a week off from action for final exams and then hosting DePaul on Sunday, Dec. 17.
Prior to the contest against the Spartans, McGraw was honored with a video tribute and an unfurling of a new banner in the rafters celebrating her 2017 induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
1. On The Rebound
Minus junior All-American forward Brianna Turner and 6-3 freshman Mikayla Vaughn, both out with ACL tears, Notre Dame’s rebounding situation was projected as a potential problem. Yet the Irish entered this contest No. 17 in rebounding margin (11.8) among 345 Division I teams and No. 9 in offensive rebounds per contest (18) against one of the nation's top schedules.
Versus the Spartans — No. 7 nationally overall in rebounding margin at plus-14.6 — Notre Dame again won the battle of the boards 44-34 (11-11 on offense). Thompson was the first Irish player other than Shepard or 5-11 guard Jackie Young to lead the team in rebounding, while Ogunbowale added nine. All hands have have to be on deck for the Irish on the boards.
2. Eight Is Enough … And Will Have To Be
McGraw used all eight scholarship players in the first eight minutes. Ogunbowale had 29 minutes to lead the Irish, while Thompson, Young and Marina Mabrey had 28 apiece, and Shepard and Kathryn Westbeld 26 each. Forward Kristina Nelson had 20 minutes off the bench.
Fifth-year seniors Thompson and Nelson are the first off the bench, and they combined for 21 points and 15 rebounds. Thompson will log starter minutes but McGraw likes the idea of looking down the bench and actually seeing a guard to insert. Thompson took three nasty spills in the game and two hits in the face, which leaves those in attendance and on the Irish bench on the edge. The 6-4 Nelson (nine points, five rebounds) was seen leaving the building with a noticeable limp, but in no need of crutches.
The assimilation of 6-2 freshman Danielle Patterson will also be needed. She saw 10 minutes against MSU, scoring four points while trying to find a flow in the game.
3. Three For The Show
Young came into the game 0-for-6 from three-point range, and Michigan State laid off her on both of her first two attempts beyond the arc — and she converted both. A third attempt in which she was open went awry, but 66 percent will be taken any day. With opponents far more concerned about her drives to the basket, Young (13 points, seven rebounds) needs those perimeter shooting skills in her repertoire to become even more effective.
While rebounding has been maybe more effective than expected, the Irish entered the contest 194th in three-point field-goal percentage at 30.4 percent. Ogunbowale at 14 of 44 (31.8 percent) and Mabrey at 11 of 47 (23.4 percent) are much better than their numbers indicate. Ogunbowale was at 45.4 percent last year and Mabrey 38.3 percent.