No. 7 Notre Dame’s defensive woes continued on Thursday night at Clemson, but a career high 29 points from sophomore guard Marina Mabrey — 24 in the second half — and a 60-51 loss by No. 4 Florida State at Virginia put head coach Muffet McGraw’s Fighting Irish in sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Now 24-3 overall, Notre Dame is 12-1 in the ACC while the Seminoles fell to 11-2. The Irish, seeking a fourth straight ACC crown, close out the road portion of the regular season at No. 21 Syracuse, last year’s national runner-up, on Sunday. It then hosts Boston College next Thursday and FSU on Sunday, Feb. 26, with the league title on the line.
McGraw complimented the energy and development of a young and improving Tigers team that had at one point lost 41 straight league games — including 86-27 to Florida State on Jan. 15 — but won three of their last five entering the Notre Dame contest. At the same time, she did not mince words about the Irish defense that has led to “sleepless nights.”
“We have no pride in our defense, whatsoever,” McGraw said. “It’s a shame, because we could be really good, but we just don’t care about defense.”
Part of the problem at Clemson was All-America candidate Brianna Turner (nine points) was plagued by foul trouble and played only half the game. Meanwhile, junior forward Kathryn Westbeld was sidelined (ankle), as was guard Ali Patberg (flu), while junior Mychal Johnson is just now coming back from a shoulder injury.
“As soon as we get healthy, we’ll be fine,” McGraw added, softening her stance.
The Irish used a 15-0 run to take a 27-16 lead at the end of the first quarter, stayed ahead 43-34 at halftime, and then closed the third quarter with a 9-2 run to build a 65-52 advantage. The cushion went all the way up to 17 points before having nearly another fourth-quarter collapse like the one at Tennessee last month.
Clemson produced career high scoring efforts from junior Nelly Perry (24 points) and freshman Kobi Thornton (20 points), with Perry’s converted jumper cutting the Irish lead to 82-80 with 11.5 seconds left. Mabrey’s two free throws with eight seconds remaining sealed the hard-fought win. On Sunday, Mabrey converted 11 of her last 12 field goal attempts during a 90-69 win versus Georgia Tech in which she finished with 25 points.
“She was phenomenal,” McGraw said of Mabrey. “She took it all on her back. Down the stretch she made every big shot. She doesn’t force things, she takes what they give her. If they give her shots, she takes them and makes them. And if they don’t give her shots, she contributes in other ways.”
Classmate Arike Ogunbowale had 15 points and senior point guard Lindsay Allen 11 to go with nine rebounds and five assists.
Freshman Jackie Young and senior Kristina “Koko” Nelson provided quality help off the short bench. Young, fresh off ACC Rookie of The Week honors, collected a career high nine rebounds and now has 24 the past three games.
With Turner in foul trouble, Nelson played 21 minutes (third most for her this season) and tallied eight points, two rebounds and blocked two shots.
• Talk about it inside Rockne's Roundtable
• Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes
• Learn more about our print and digital publication, Blue & Gold Illustrated.
• Like us on Facebook