No. 4 Notre Dame 56, No. 7 Duke 54

Natalie Novosel couldn’t have had much worse of a first half for

Notre Dame.

The senior guard missed nine of her 10 shots and just wasn’t in

sync on offense.

Yet she didn’t stop shooting, banking in a shot from the foul

line with under a second left to lift the fourth-ranked Irish to a

56-54 win over No. 7 Duke in the Junkanoo Jam final on Saturday

night.

”This is unbelievable. It’s surreal. It’s an amazing, amazing

feeling,” Novosel said. ”I almost fell out of bounds. The ball

was supposed to go to the middle. I caught the ball and I had my

eye on the rim and I knew that’s where I was going. I wasn’t even

trying to get contact for a foul. Just focused on the rim and shot

it. I drove right to the foul line and took off with one leg, and

used the backboard to my advantage, and I banked it in.”

Skylar Diggins scored 19 points and Novosel had 15 for the Irish

(5-1), who rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit.

”I just kept going,” said Novosel, who was averaging 17.6

points coming into the game. ”They were bound to fall. Someway I

had to find a way to score. I have confidence in myself and know my

team has confidence in me. I knew I had to keep shooting for us to

win.”

Freshman Elizabeth Williams had 16 points, 13 rebounds and seven

blocks for Duke (4-1).

Trailing 54-51 with 1:35 left, the Irish had three chances to

tie the game, but missed three 3-pointers. Kayla McBride got fouled

on an offensive rebound and made the first of two free throws to

cut the deficit to two.

After Chelsea Gray missed a shot for Duke on the other end,

Diggins scored to tie it at 54. Shay Selby missed a shot with 9

seconds left before Novosel’s game-winner.

”I thought Natalie Novosel really came alive in the second

half, and I thought Skylar played an incredible game,” Notre Dame

coach Muffet McGraw said. ”This is such a huge lift for us,

because, I know we were feeling really down on ourselves at

halftime, wondering what happened. Then we were able to come

together and play as a team. I thought Fraderica Miller was a

catalyst. Her defense was incredible. Brittany Mallory made some

big defensive stops. Everybody contributed.”

Notre Dame trailed 36-20 at the half, but clamped down on

defense. After Haley Peters’ layup gave Duke an 18-point lead 45

seconds into the second half, the Blue Devils missed their next 14

shots.

Diggins had six points during a 21-3 run and Novosel scored to

tie it at 41.

Gray finally ended an 11 1/2-minute drought for Duke with a

layup that gave it a 43-41 edge with 7:48 left.

Neither team could build more than a four-point lead the rest of

the way.

With the game tied at 51, Williams made a layup with 2:44 left.

After a stop by Duke, Richa Jackson hit one of two free throws with

1:35 left, setting up the exciting finish.

”This is unbelievable,” McGraw said. ”We played so poorly in

the first half. We just couldn’t do anything right at either end.

We didn’t rebound. We couldn’t make a shot. And then at halftime,

we just said, `Hey, we’re not playing our game.’ And they decided

they were going to come out and play a little better defense. Then

we got some easy baskets because of that.”

The Irish, who matched the biggest rally in school history,

missed 11 of their first 12 shots as the Blue Devils raced out to a

15-6 lead.

The Blue Devils shot just 19 percent from the field in the

second half.

”We didn’t attack as much,” Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie

said. ”Obviously they picked up the aggression. It was two

different halves, almost the same exact score each half. We did

some great things the first half, and they did better things in the

second half. A few rebounds here or there, but that’s the way the

game goes. You have to be ready.”