Natalie Achonwa (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

Achonwa Leads #7/6 Notre Dame Past #19/21 Ohio State, 57-51

Nov. 9, 2012

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MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (AP)Natalie Achonwa had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead No. 7 Notre Dame to a 57-51 victory over No. 19 Ohio State on Friday night in the Carrier Classic.

Kayla McBride added 16 points and Skylar Diggins 11 for the Fighting Irish, who improved to 23-3 in season openers under coach Muffet McGraw. Not that it was easy in the first women’s game played on an aircraft carrier – the USS Yorktown.

The Yorktown was bathed in bright sunshine at the start, leaving players on both teams squinting. Once the sun set on Charleston Harbor, the converted flight deck turned downright chilly.

None of that stopped Achonwa and Notre Dame.

Notre Dame went on a 10-3 run to start the second half for a 35-25 lead. Ohio State, though, chipped away behind Tayler Hill’s play. Her driving basket cut Notre Dame’s lead to 47-43 with 4:52 to go and moments later teammate Amber Stokes stole a mid-court pass and took it in for an uncontested layup.

Hill, who led the Big Ten in scoring last season at 20.4 points a game, hit two foul shots with 2:30 to go that brought Ohio State as close as it would come after that, 50-47.

It was Diggins, as usual, who orchestrated Notre Dame’s victory.

She got the Irish off to a quick start in the second half, funneling the ball to Achonwa and McBride to build a 35-25 lead over the first four minutes of the period that Notre Dame would not give up.

“She’s the one who directs us, manages the game, gets us in the offense,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “She did a little bit of everything tonight.”

Diggins, a senior, knows this is just the first step on a journey she hopes can end with a national title. The Fighting Irish were runners-up the past two seasons, losing to Texas A&M and Baylor in the 2011 and 2012 championship games, respectively. Moments after this one ended, Diggins talked about pressing forward at practice and in the film room.

“For a lot of us, this is our first experience playing a great Ohio State team,” she said. “We’ve got to continue to get better every day.”

Both teams paid tribute to the military in their uniforms, the Buckeyes wearing a camouflage design while the Fighting Irish had camo accents down the sides with a red-white-and-blue USA on the back where their names are.

“This to all the women’s troops,” McGraw said. “There are a lot of women out there” in the military.

Diggins was honored to take part.

“It was great to play this game for something bigger than us,” she said.

— ND —

POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame wins its opening game for the 18th consecutive season, coinciding exactly with the program’s membership in the BIG EAST Conference — its last opening-day loss was Nov. 26, 1994, a 65-60 overtime setback at 25th-ranked Seton Hall … the Fighting Irish improve to 28-8 (.778) all-time in season openers, including a 23-3 (.885) record in the Muffet McGraw era (1987-88 to present) … Notre Dame is 9-2 (.818) away from home in season openers, including a 7-2 (.778) record during McGraw’s tenure … Friday marked the first time Notre Dame opened its season against a ranked opponent since Nov. 16, 2008, when the Fighting Irish earned a 62-53 victory at No. 24/22 LSU in the State Farm Tip-Off Classic … Notre Dame opens with a win over an opponent ranked in the top 20 of the Associated Press poll (Ohio State was ranked 19th) for the first time since Nov. 14, 1998, when the Fighting Irish downed No. 6 UCLA, 99-82 at Purcell Pavilion, a win that included a career-high 23 points from senior guard Danielle Green; coincidentally Green (a 2000 Notre Dame graduate) was in attendance at Friday’s Carrier Classic game against Ohio State as a guest of the Notre Dame program, which dedicated the victory to her (in 2004, Green was wounded in action while serving in Baghdad, Iraq, with the U.S. Army 571st MP Company as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom – Green lost her left hand in a rocket-propelled grenade attack and later received the Purple Heart) … Notre Dame raises its all-time record against current Big Ten Conference schools to 44-49 (.473), including a 20-31 (.392) mark away from home (road/neutral combined) … the Fighting Irish are 37-34 (.521) against the Big Ten in the McGraw era (17-20, .459 away from home) and have won 16 of their last 22 games against Big Ten opponents, including the past five in a row … Notre Dame now has won 19 consecutive games against teams from the state of Ohio and is 76-16 (.826) all-time against the Buckeye State, including a 38-7 (.844) record away from home; the last Ohio school to defeat the Fighting Irish was Ohio State, which earned a 74-67 victory over Notre Dame on Jan. 4, 1997, at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio … Notre Dame is 2-1 all-time against OSU, with all three games decided by seven points or fewer (this was the lowest scoring game by either side in the abbreviated series) … McGraw improves to 4-3 all-time against her coaching mentor, Ohio State’s Jim Foster (whom she worked for as an assistant at her alma mater, Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) from 1980-82), including a 4-0 record since she became the head coach at Notre Dame in 1987 (the three losses all occurred when she coached Lehigh against Saint Joseph’s in the mid-1980s) … Notre Dame earns its first win when shooting below 35 percent from the field since Nov. 26, 2011, when it defeated No. 7/6 Duke, 56-54 in the Junkanoo Jam championship game at Freeport, Bahamas, despite connecting on just 32.7 percent of its shots (Duke shot .322 in that game) … the Fighting Irish shot 87.5 percent from the foul line, their best effort from the stripe since Feb. 20, 2012, when they hit at a .944 clip (17-of-18) in a 68-52 win at No. 16 Louisville … junior forward Natalie Achonwa registered her second career double-double and first since March 8, 2011, when she posted 12 points and 10 rebounds in a 73-64 loss at top-ranked Connecticut in the BIG EAST Championship title game … Achonwa also is the first Notre Dame player to tally a double-double in a season opener since Nov. 15, 2009, when Becca Bruszewski had 19 points and 10 rebounds in a 102-57 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Purcell Pavilion … sophomore forward Markisha Wright grabbed seven rebounds, her best performance on the glass since Jan. 14, 2012, when she had seven caroms in a 76-50 win at Cincinnati … freshman guard Jewell Loyd had 12 rebounds on Friday, the most for a Notre Dame player in a season opener since another Fighting Irish rookie, Lindsay Schrader, had 14 rebounds in a 55-45 win over Michigan on Nov. 18 2005, at Purcell Pavilion (in what was McGraw’s 500th career victory) … Notre Dame had two players get their first career starts in their first college games (Loyd and sophomore guard Madison Cable, who missed all of last year with stress fractures in her feet) for the first time since Nov. 18, 2001, when freshman forward Jacqueline Batteast and freshman center Teresa Borton started in their college debuts, helping the Fighting Irish to a 42-35 win over Valparaiso at Purcell Pavilion … Notre Dame was playing in the state of South Carolina for the first time since March 24, 1997, when the Fighting Irish defeated No. 22/16 George Washington, 62-52, at Frank McGuire Arena in Columbia, S.C., to win the NCAA East Regional title and advance to the program’s first NCAA Women’s Final Four — all four current Notre Dame coaches were part of the team that season (McGraw as head coach, associate head coach Carol Owens was an assistant, associate coach Beth Cunningham was the team’s leading scorer under her maiden name of Beth Morgan, assistant coach Niele Ivey was sidelined during what was her freshman year after a knee injury in the season’s fifth game) … the Fighting Irish continue their remarkable run of success when leading at halftime, improving to 248-19 (.929) since 2000-01 when they’re ahead at the intermission, including an 85-2 (.977) record in the past four seasons (2009-10 to present) … since joining the BIG EAST in 1995-96, Notre Dame is 259-15 (.945) when holding its opponents to fewer than 60 points in a game.