Irish hold on to defeat Bulldogs in March Madness
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Lauren Ebo had 10 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks to help No. 3 seed Notre Dame beat 11th-seed Mississippi State 53-48 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
“Keeping them off the boards was important for us and rebounding is something we really struggled with in the past month or so,” Ebo said. “I wanted to go out there and help us get to the Sweet Sixteen.”
Maddy Westbeld added nine points and 15 rebounds for the Irish, who blew an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter before making the plays down the stretch for the win.
Mississippi State scored eight straight points to open the fourth quarter and tie the game at 41. Ebo scored the first Irish basket of the final period on an offensive putback with 4:38 remaining.
“The crowd erupted,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said. “We really needed a basket to settle us in.”
The Irish regained the lead for good on a pair of KK Bransford free throws with 3:49 left in the game, which gave Notre Dame a 45-43 advantage. The Irish held onto the lead the rest of the way.
Ebo also did it on the defensive end, holding the Bulldogs’ leading scorer Jessika Carter to five points on 2 for 11 shooting. The Notre Dame post player set the school record in the NCAA Tournament with her rebounding effort. She broke Katryna Gaither’s mark of 16 set in 1997.
“(Ebo) knew that Mississippi State’s offense went through Carter, and that was something we were focused on,” Ivey said. “We had to get the stops, protect the paint with her and we had to establish our inside game.”
A multitude of Mississippi State guards agitated Notre Dame’s leading scorer Sonia Citron, who was frequently picked up full court. She scored 14 points.
Citron, Bransford and Jenna Brown shared ballhandling responsibilities with second-team Associated Press All-American point guard Olivia Miles out the remainder of the season with an undisclosed knee injury.
The trio combined for four assists with nine turnovers.
“I knew they were going to pressure us a lot, and we worked on it all week,” Ivey said. “I think sometimes you’ve just got to learn in the moment.”
Kourtney Weber led Mississippi State (22-11) with 14 points, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame (27-5) awaits the winner of the second-round matchup on Sunday evening between No. 2 Maryland and No. 7 Arizona.
“I’m so grateful to say that I get to lead this group,” Ivey said. “To be back dancing in the Sweet Sixteen is a dream come true, especially with everything we’re going through.”
OVERCOMING SHOOTING WOES
Notre Dame and Mississippi State shot a combined 31.8% from the field, including a 3-of-27 shooting performance from beyond the arc.
Weber didn’t hit the game’s first 3-pointer until early in the fourth quarter. The Irish failed to connect from deep.
Both teams also shot poorly from the charity stripe, hitting 59.6% on 47 attempts.
However, Notre Dame connected on 8 of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter, including four makes from Citron in the final 13 seconds.
“Big-time players step up in those moments,” Ivey said. “It’s a mental thing, and those sealed the game.”
Mississippi State: Wins two games in the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since the Bulldogs reached the regional final as a No. 1 seed in 2018-19. The program lost in the national final in the two seasons prior.
“What we did was so special,” first-year Mississippi State coach Sam Purcell said. “You have a program that a lot of people around the country said, ‘it’s done; it had its glory years.’ But these young women were an absolute joy to coach.”
Notre Dame: Won the ACC regular season crown and returns to the Sweet Sixteen for the second year in a row and the 19th time in program history.
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