NOTRE DAME— After second-ranked Notre Dame fell behind by 15 points early to No. 22 Syracuse, Skylar Diggins scored 21 points in the first half to get the Fighting Irish back in the game and then told Kayla McBride at halftime she was counting on her.
“I went to K-Mac and told her, ‘It’s all you, baby,’ because I was tired,” Diggins said. “I told her, ‘You’re going to take us there.”’
McBride scored a career-high 25 points and Diggins finished with 24 points and eight assists as the Fighting Irish beat the Orange 79-68 Tuesday night, the 21st straight victory for the Fighting Irish.
The game was one of starkly different halves. Syracuse had 12 more rebounds than Notre Dame in the first half and had a 47-31 percent advantage in shooting. The Irish turned those numbers around in the second half. They had 13 more rebounds and outshot the Orange 44-32 percent.
“I liked the second half better,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “I thought we played our game in the second half. We rebounded. We played defense.”
Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said the difference was the Orange made their shots in the first half and didn’t in the second half, meaning they had to guard the Irish in transition more.
“They came out strong in the second half and made their run early and we just didn’t recover,” he said.
Kayla Alexander led Syracuse with 24 points and 16 rebounds, making her first six shots of the game. But she made just one of her next eight shots and finished 10-of-18 from the floor. Alexander blamed herself.
“Those were misses that should have been points, so I feel like that’s on me,” she said.
Notre Dame held its senior night Tuesday even though it still has a home game Monday against third-ranked UConn, hoping to avoid the emotional trappings that come with the event in a game that likely will decide whether the Irish win their second straight Big East or share it with the Huskies. After seeing the Irish hit just 2-of-16 shots to start the game against Syracuse, McGraw was happy with that decision saying the entire team was affected.
“We couldn’t make a shot. It was just a little bit of emotion, a little bit trying too hard, a little bit of trying not to let it bother us. I think it was tough in the beginning and everybody got a little bit jittery. Then that’s when Sky usually takes over and calms everybody down,” McGraw said.
That’s what happened against Syracuse. Diggins scored nine points during a 13-2 run late in the first half to get the Irish back into the game and the Irish took control by opening the second half with a 9-0 run. Syracuse had one last gasp, using an 8-0 run to 65-59 with six minutes left on a pair of baskets by Carmen Tyson-Thomas, who finished with 18 points. But they couldn’t get any closer than six the rest of the way as the Irish improved to 26-2 all-time against the Orange.
Diggins said she could feel the emotions of senior night weighing on the team.
“Once we got down I was just telling the team, just stay calm,” Diggins said. “We’re going to win this game. We’re just going to do it the hard way.”
Diggins, a South Bend native, and fellow senior Kaila Turner have led the Irish to a school record 121 victories in their four years at Notre Dame and back-to-back national championship game appearances.
The 21-game winning streak is the second-longest in Notre Dame history, two shy of the record 23 straight wins set by the squad that won the national championship in 2001. It also was the 18th straight Big East win for the Irish, tying a school record. The Orange lost their second straight to fall into a tie for third place with Louisville. Those two teams play in the regular-season finale.