Spartans can’t match top seed Notre Dame, fall in second round

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Sam Britten, Women's basketball reporter

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The Spartans faced off against the defending national champion Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the second round of the NCAA tournament. After a thrilling battle against Central Michigan in the first round, the Spartans couldn’t match the No. 1-seeded Irish on their home court.

Michigan State had its eyes set on getting out of the second round for the first time since 2009. Notre Dame’s been in the Sweet 16 every year in the meantime. This year would be no different as the Irish claimed victory by a score of 91-63.

Jenna Allen scored four points in the first two minutes to give her team some hope, but it didn’t last long. After two minutes of the Spartans looking like they could maybe hang with the Irish, Muffet McGraw had other ideas. The head coach in her 32nd year showed what a Hall of Famer and a National Championship contender looks like.

“I thought we were really focused, our intensity was up,” McGraw said. “We played with almost a little bit of a chip on our shoulder today. I thought defensively we were a lot more active.”

Notre Dame went on a 15-4 run over the next six minutes. The Irish closed out both quarters with last-second baskets, keeping the Spartans from gaining any momentum. They would walk off the court with a halftime score of 52-26 and three scorers already in double digits in Jessica Shepard, Jackie Young and Arike Ogunbowale.

The second half was more of the same for Notre Dame, as they scored 39 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and only committed eight turnovers. Four players finished with double-digit points for the Irish.

Notre Dame was effective on both sides of the ball, shooting 47.9 percent from the field while holding Michigan State to just 37.3 percent. Ogunbowale, Notre Dame’s all-time leading scorer, made light work of the Spartan guards, leading all scorers with 23 points while going 8-of-17 from the field. She also had five assists and made five of her six free throws.

“She was the one we worried the most about,” said Suzy Merchant on Ogunbowale. “She just is very, very strong. She’s just impressive.”

The Irish’s size and speed were too much for Michigan State. Jessica Shepard on Jenna Allen was an expected matchup, but Allen didn’t have an answer for Shepard, as the ND forward scored 19 points.

Allen played in what was her final game as a Spartan. She made the most of her last time suiting up in green and white. The center finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds, and a handful of tears.  

“I’m just so grateful to have picked to go to this university and played in the Spartan uniform for the last four years,” said Allen with tears in her eyes. “I’m sad to go, but I know all my teammates are great people and they worked so hard and they’re going to do great things in life.”

As a whole, Michigan State struggled on offense. The Spartans were unable to spread the ball around the court as well as they did on Saturday. Two starters were held scoreless and Michigan State turned the ball over 15 times, which Notre Dame scored 16 points off of.

Nia Clouden, one of the more consistent scorers for Michigan State, was unable to do much. The freshman guard shot 2-of-7 and scored just 8 points in 25 minutes.

Notre Dame’s defense confused Michigan State on nearly every possession, getting mismatches like 6-4 forward Shepard on 5-9 guard Shay Colley.

Notre Dame will march to the Sweet 16 and face Texas A&M on Saturday in Chicago. With the season now over, Michigan State will look to improve in the offseason and get ready for a new year.