Thursday night could be viewed in two ways.
Either Notre Dame gave a gutsy performance with a short bench and tired legs or the Irish took a step backwards defensively in allowing Clemson to score 20 points more than its season average.
The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle with three games remaining on the regular-season slate.
The Irish (24-3, 12-1) were without Kathryn Westbeld, the squad's "glue" who has been nursing an ankle injury that hasn't improved, and Ali Patberg, who has been battling the flu. Instead, Notre Dame used a good first half from Arike Ogunbowale (11 of her 15 points) and a huge second half from Marina Mabrey (a career-high 29 with 24 coming in the final 20 minutes) to hold off the Tigers (14-13, 3-11).
Also contributing to the effort was Lindsay Allen who tallied 11 points and nine rebounds in 40 minutes of play, while Jackie Young collected a career-high nine rebounds. With the win, Notre Dame took over first play in the ACC after No. 4 Florida State was upset at Virginia on the same night.
Clemson had four players with double-digit scoring efforts, paced by Nelly Perry (24 points), Kobi Thornton (20), Victoria Cardaci (12) and Danielle Edwards (11).
Notre Dame also had several runs, starting with a 12-0 stretch in the first period that pulled the Irish ahead, 27-16. The Irish went up by as many as 17 in the second quarter, but the Tigers kept inching their way back just when it seemed as though Notre Dame was going to blow by them. A trey by Clemson’s Cardaci as time expired in the first half awkwardly hit the backboard and banked in, cutting Notre Dame’s lead to 43-34.
Despite Notre Dame’s Brianna Turner picking up her third foul quickly at the start of the third, the Irish went on an 8-0 run. But Clemson answered right back with eight unanswered points of its own. Still, the Irish owned a 10-point advantage heading into the final period in which the Tigers kept clawing away at the score. But Mabrey never let Clemson tie or take the lead, coming up with a three pointer, a drive to the basket or a free throw every time the Tigers threatened.
Fittingly, with eight seconds left, Mabrey sank two free throws to put the Irish up 84-80 and put the game all but out of reach for the Tigers, and then she secured the rebound on Clemson’s final shot to secure the victory. However, the sophomore sharp shooter was hardly happy after the game.
“We didn’t learn a lesson tonight (by losing),” Mabrey said. “But we almost did so we have a lot of work to do. I was disappointed with the way we played, and I hope it never happens again.”
The Irish will play their final regular-season road game on Feb. 19 at Syracuse.