No. 2 ND stays perfect, tops No. 13 ‘Pack 84-60

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Notre Dame’s first run through the Atlantic Coast Conference couldn’t have gone any better.

The second-ranked Fighting Irish polished off a perfect debut season in the ACC by beating No. 13 North Carolina State 84-60 on Sunday.

Natalie Achonwa scored 19 points and Jewell Loyd added 18 points for the Irish (29-0, 16-0).

They shot 56 percent and led by 30 after an overwhelming second-half run helped them cap the first undefeated regular season for an ACC school since the 2006-07 Duke team.

In the second half, Notre Dame scored 48 points and shot 64.5 percent.

”It wasn’t easy – every game was a battle,” Achonwa said. ”It’s definitely great to be part of the ACC, and I think we just took it in stride and are really excited to be at this point and to be undefeated going into the postseason.

”The season ends now,” she added, ”and now we’re about to start a new one.”

Freshman Miah Spencer had a season-high 18 points for the Wolfpack (24-6, 11-5), who missed 10 consecutive shots shortly after halftime and went scoreless for 7 1/2 minutes while the Irish turned a tight game into yet another blowout.

”They’re very well-coached, they play hard, and, man, can they shoot the ball,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. ”That’s what sets them apart. There’s really no weakness, no one that you can cheat off of.”

Kayla McBride added 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting for Notre Dame, which in an 11-day span beat each of the four of the North Carolina-based ACC schools by double figures – and three were in the top 15 at the time.

Now the Irish hope to keep rolling through Tobacco Road: They’re the top seed in the ACC tournament that starts Wednesday in Greensboro, and with a victory in the quarterfinals they will match a school record with their 30th straight victory.

”I’m so proud of my team and what they’ve accomplished this year,” coach Muffet McGraw said. ”Just couldn’t be happier with where we are right now. We’ve still got a long road ahead of us, but I think we need to sit back for a moment and reflect on what we have accomplished.”

Ariel Braker added 12 points for Notre Dame, which also became the ACC’s first team to go unbeaten in league play since North Carolina in 2007-08, and the first team with 16 ACC wins since Duke in 2002-03.

They finally gave themselves some separation late in the first half, then really broke it open early in the second by reeling off 17 straight points during the transition-fueled 23-4 run that effectively ended it.

Each of the Irish’s key players got involved: They led by 10 before Loyd scored on back-to-back drives. Achonwa hit a layup before Loyd hit the first of her two 3-pointers during the burst.

McBride hit consecutive shots, and after Loyd’s second 3, Achonwa converted a three-point play to make it 64-35 with 8 1/2 minutes left.

”Once we got down the floor, I was more in the trailer spot, and I just ended up cutting to the basket when they overplayed us,” Achonwa said. ”It led to easy layups.”

Kody Burke finished with 15 points and Markeisha Gatling added 12 for the Wolfpack. As the No. 4 seed in the ACC tournament, they’ll earn a rematch with the Irish in the semifinals if the seeds hold.

N.C. State was picked in the preseason to finish 10th in the league.

”I couldn’t be more proud,” Burke said. ”Obviously, we’re not first in the ACC but we just exceeded all expectations, and we have a brand new season coming up and a chance to make a statement in the postseason.”

After Burke’s jumper with 17 minutes left, N.C. State missed 10 straight shots before Spencer finally ended the drought with a jump shot.

That cold spell undid a strong first half for the Wolfpack, who were denied their biggest victory since they knocked off then-No. 1 and undefeated Duke in the 2007 ACC tournament semifinals during their remarkable Kay Yow-led postseason run.

They gave Notre Dame fits up until the final moments of the first half.

With 90 seconds left before the break, the Irish were up just 32-28. They pushed their lead to 36-28 at halftime – just the third time in the past month that their opponent was within single digits of them at the break.

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