- Associated Press - Sunday, February 26, 2017

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - It wasn’t always a smooth ride for Muffet McGraw’s Notre Dame team this season, but the Fighting Irish are back in familiar territory once again.

Brianna Turner scored 24 points to lead No. 5 Notre Dame to its fourth straight ACC regular season title with a 79-61 win over No. 8 Florida State on Sunday.

After being voted the preseason No. 1 team, the Irish occasionally took some lumps and struggled with consistency, which they seem to be finding now late in the season.

“We were anointed early on and didn’t handle it well,” McGraw said. “Then we were able to earn our way back and I think that says a lot for this team and what they overcame to get there.”

Arike Ogunbowale added 19 points and Kathryn Westbeld had 14 for the Irish (27-3, 15-1 ACC), who will once again be the top seed in the conference tournament, which they have won every year since joining the league in 2013.

“I had a lot of joy out there today,” McGraw said. “I really, really wanted to celebrate that one.”

Winners of 11 straight overall, the Fighting Irish are the second ACC team to win four consecutive championships, matching Duke’s run from 2001-04. After losing their first ACC game of the season on Dec. 29, 70-62 at N.C. State, they rattled off 15 straight league wins to defend their crown.

“It feels really good, especially kind of how we started on the loss,” Westbeld said. “Being able to come out with a win, outright for just us, really puts us in a good spot.”

Notre Dame point guard Lindsay Allen finished with nine assists and now has 778 for her career, tying Mary Galvin’s school record set in 1988.

The Irish had 24 assists on their 31 baskets, many of which went to Turner, who hit 11 of 15 from the field.

“When we were able to go into (Turner), somebody was going to get an assist,” McGraw said.

Brittany Brown scored 16 points to lead Florida State (25-5, 13-3) and Leticia Romero added 14.

Turner hit three straight baskets down low to begin the second quarter, part of an 8-0 Irish run that pushed their lead to 16 points.

Ogunbowale opened the second half with a jumper and a layup and the Irish lead was up to 19 less than two minutes into the third quarter.

A 10-0 Florida State run cut it to 59-50 at the start of the fourth quarter, but Notre Dame’s Jackie Young stroked a 3-pointer at the other end to get the Irish advantage back to double digits.

Florida State leading scorer Shakayla Thomas (15 points per game) returned to the starting lineup after missing two games with a shoulder injury. She finished with 10 points while wearing a sleeve on her left shoulder.

“She’s still so restricted with the brace on,” said Florida State coach Sue Semrau. “I thought that held her back a little bit.”

RESILIENT IRISH

McGraw was asked what she learned about her team through the course of their season, and she didn’t hesitate with her answer.

“I think resilient,” McGraw said. “I’m so impressed with that. Because we wondered about their toughness when we were taking our lumps early. They really showed us a lot the way they came out together today and played so hard.”

BIG-TIME ATMOSPHERE

Semrau jokingly bowed to McGraw before the game when the longtime Irish coach came out to an ovation from the capacity crowd. Semrau also said the crowd affected her team.

“We hadn’t played in an atmosphere like this,” Semrau said. “When you haven’t been in that situation it’s a little bit deflating and I think that happened to us in the first half.”

BIG PICTURE

Florida State: As with most other teams in the ACC, the Seminoles have yet to solve the Irish, falling to 0-6 against them. They also missed out on winning their third ACC co-championship and first ever No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament.

Notre Dame: The Irish have won six straight conference titles, including the last two from their time in the Big East. They are now 32-0 at home in the ACC and extended their overall conference home winning streak to 42 games, dating back to their Big East days.

UP NEXT

Florida State: The Seminoles are the No. 2 seed in the ACC tournament in Conway, S.C. and will play a quarterfinal matchup on March 3.

Notre Dame: The Irish will be the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament when they play in the quarterfinals on March 3.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide