SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw exhaled with a big sigh: ”Whew!”
Stunned early by a Syracuse team inspired by a record-breaking Carrier Dome crowd, the No. 7 Irish regrouped behind Brianna Turner’s career-high 31 points on Sunday and escaped with an 85-80 victory over the No. 21 Orange.
”This was a game I was really worried about,” McGraw said. ”This was the game on the schedule that we looked at. This was the most important game of the year. We had to win this game. There’s a lot of pressure on us to hold on to first place. I’ll tell you, it was tough.”
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Notre Dame (24-3, 13-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), which has beaten Syracuse 16 straight times, survived a near-upset at Clemson on Thursday night, prevailing 84-80, and entered the game in sole possession of first place in the conference as it chases its fourth straight outright regular-season title.
Marina Mabrey added 22 points and leading scorer Arike Ogunbowale, averaging 15.1, finished with seven points, five rebounds and four assists for the Irish. Freshman Jackie Young contributed a season-high 12 rebounds.
Syracuse (18-9, 9-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) had won 18 straight games at home, and even though the Orange set a school attendance record of 11,021 for the big game, the Irish had too much at the end.
”It was a major moment for our program,” Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. ”It felt great to have that kind of support. It means a lot.”
Brittney Sykes and Alexis Peterson each had 19 points, and Briana Day and Gabby Cooper each finished with 18 for Syracuse. Peterson matched her career high with 14 assists.
”I absolutely wanted to win, but we didn’t get it,” Sykes said. ”What we can take away from this is that we know we’re one of those great teams in the ACC. There’s been a couple of games where we probably shouldn’t have lost, and this is one of them.”
Paced by Turner, who only missed one of her 14 shots, Notre Dame started the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run to gain its first lead and held on.
The 6-foot-3 Turner, who repeatedly planted herself in the deep post, scored six straight points to start the period, Ogunbowale followed with a layup, and a jumper by Kathryn Westfeld completed the spurt that put the Irish in front 69-63 and they never trailed again.
”A post player who’s in deep, it’s tough to guard that,” Hillsman said. ”We’ve just got to do a better job.”
Syracuse needed a good performance from beyond the arc and stunned the Irish with three straight makes at the start, two by Sykes and the other from Cooper for an 11-2 lead less than 3 minutes into the game. The Orange finished 12 of 26 from long range.
A 3 by Peterson gave the Orange the biggest lead of the game, 23-10 at 4:35, before the Irish settled down. Five points from Mabrey, jumpers in the lane by Young and Mabrey, and a layup by Erin Boley off a feed from Lindsay Allen moved Notre Dame back within 27-23 late in the period.
Three straight baskets by Sykes late in the second helped stake the Orange to a 43-35 halftime lead.
Notre Dame got nine points from Turner in the third to close the gap to 63-59 entering the final period.
Notre Dame outrebounded the Orange 44-20, 18-5 on the offensive glass, and scored 22 second-chance points to just three for Syracuse.
The Irish will move up after No. 4 Florida State lost twice during the week, in double overtime to No. 7 Texas on Monday and a nine-point loss to Virginia on Thursday. Syracuse dropped out of the poll for a month, but the Orange likely will benefit from No. 22 South Florida’s loss to Temple on Sunday.
Notre Dame: This is the sixth straight year the Irish have started a season 24-3 or better. … Irish are ranked third in the nation in field-goal percentage at 49.4 percent. They’re vying to become the second team to lead in the ACC in that category in four straight years. … Lindsay Allen needs 32 more assists to break former Virginia great Sharnee Zoll’s (2004-08) record of 785 and 19 to tie the school record set by Mary Gavin in 1988.
Syracuse: In the previous contest between the teams, Notre Dame won 68-57 in the 2016 ACC Tournament final. The loss snapped the Orange’s 11-game win streak. … Syracuse has defeated four ranked teams during the season, a school record, but has lost to six ranked teams. … The previous attendance record for Syracuse was 4,357, set against UConn in 2012.
Notre Dame hosts Boston College on Thursday night.
Syracuse hosts Wake Forest on Thursday night.
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