January 5, 2014
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) – When the shots weren’t falling in the first half, Jewell Loyd and No. 2 Notre Dame picked it up on the defensive end.
Up by just four points at halftime on Clemson, the Irish used a 17-4 run out of the break to take control in their ACC debut, a 71-51 win over the Tigers on Sunday.
Clemson hit just one of its first eight shots in the second half, and Loyd had a three-point play and a 3-pointer during the decisive Irish run.
“I was just trying to get it done on defense,” said Loyd, who scored 12 of her 16 points in the second half. “We just weren’t making shots. Maybe we were just trying to force it, but we’ll make those shots with our eyes closed tomorrow.”
After shooting just 28 percent in the first half, Notre Dame shot it at a 63 percent clip in the second half.
When the Irish needed a basket, they looked to Achonwa down low. Notre Dame finished with 42 points in the paint.
“I thought (Achonwa) really came ready to play,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “She was the only one that I thought had a lot of energy and was really on her game.”
Kelly Gramlich led Clemson with 13 points. The Tigers (8-7, 0-1) lost for the fourth time in their last six games after winning five straight.
Nikki Dixon averaged 19.7 points in Clemson’s last three games, but she picked up her fourth foul on a Loyd offensive putback early in the second half and sat for nearly eight minutes. Dixon then fouled out with 5:36 to play and finished with just five points.
That fifth foul led to a McBride three-point play that pushed Notre Dame’s lead to 16 points.
Due to a combination of injuries and roster attrition, Clemson only dressed eight players and tried to slow down the high-scoring Irish by running the shot clock under 10 on most possessions.
“The game plan going in was to slow the ball, take some air out of the basketball and slow them down in transition,” said Clemson coach Audra Smith. “I felt our foul trouble really hurt because they started executing better offensively.”
The deliberate pace seemed to affect Notre Dame, which came in leading the nation in field goal percentage at 51.4 percent, but missed a number of point-blank layups and looked out of sync for much of the first 20 minutes.
“I think we really just got sucked into their pace,” McGraw said.
Lindsay Allen’s steal and layup with two minutes left before halftime put the Irish up 27-23. McBride and Loyd, Notre Dame’s top two scorers, were just 3 of 14 combined.
“Halftime was frustrating,” McGraw said. “You looked at the stats and saw a lot of one-for-something on the shooting column.”
McGraw decided against a fiery halftime pep talk, choosing instead to try and ease her tight team, but she admitted that wasn’t easy.
“When you miss a lot of shots, I think you get a little tense, so I was trying not to make it more tense than it was,” McGraw said. “There was a lot of deep breaths to get to that point.”
— ND —
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame earns a victory in its inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference game … the Fighting Irish have won their first conference game in all four leagues they have been a member of, including prior victories in their debuts with the North Star (85-68 at Xavier), Midwestern Collegiate (75-65 at Evansville) and BIG EAST (66-54 at home vs. Rutgers) conferences … Notre Dame is 17-4 (.810) in its last 21 conference openers, winning its eighth consecutive league lidlifter on Sunday … the Fighting Irish also are 16-5 (.762) in their last 21 conference home openers … Notre Dame continues the third-best start in program history and best since a 15-0 debut in 2009-10 … the Fighting Irish have won 36 consecutive regular season games and 19 consecutive home games, both dating back to Dec. 5, 2012 (73-61 loss vs. third-ranked Baylor at Purcell Pavilion) … Notre Dame wins its 20th consecutive regular season conference game, as well as its 11th league contest in a row at home … Clemson was the fourth first-time opponent for the Fighting Irish this season (and 201st in program history), with Notre Dame improving to 40-3 (.930) against new foes this century (since 2000-01) and extending its current winning streak against first-time opponents to 16 in a row during the past three seasons … the Fighting Irish also have won 31 consecutive home games against new opponents, a streak that dates back to 1995-96 … Notre Dame was playing a team from South Carolina for only the fourth time in program history, evening its record against the Palmetto State at 2-2 (South Carolina holds a 2-1 series lead on the Fighting Irish) … Notre Dame had four double-figure scorers for the 10th time this season, rising to 85-5 (.944) since 2009-10 and posting wins in 55 of its last 56 such outings … the Fighting Irish held their opponent to fewer than 60 points for the third consecutive game and seventh time this season, moving to 295-15 (.950) in such games since 1995-96 … Notre Dame led at the half for the 12th time this year, improving to 290-19 (.939) since 1995-96 and 127-2 (.985) in the past five seasons when leading at halftime … the Fighting Irish committed a season-low seven turnovers, two fewer than their total at Oregon State on Dec. 29 … Notre Dame registered several season-low totals including first-half points (27), field goals made (25), field goal attempts (55), three-point percentage (.200) and assists (15) … the Fighting Irish reserves also were limited to a season-low four points, and were outscored by their counterparts for just the third time all season … senior forward/tri-captain Natalie Achonwa posted her second consecutive double-double and team-leading fourth of the season with 15 points and a season high-tying 13 rebounds … Achonwa’s double-double also was the 24th of her career, moving her into a tie for eighth place in school history with Margaret Nowlin (1988-92) … Achonwa grabbed the 800th rebound of her career on Sunday, becoming the ninth player in program history to reach that milestone … Achonwa also tied her career high with three blocks, the seventh time she has hit that mark … freshman guard Lindsay Allen scored in double figures for the sixth time in her young career.