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Irish take fourth-straight ACC title

For the fourth time in four years Notre Dame took home the ACC title, this time by downing Duke 84-61 on Sunday.

Before Notre Dame (30-3, 15-1) joined the ACC four years ago, Duke (27-5, 13-3) had won three of the last four league crowns and dominated the league. Since then, the Blue Devils are 0-13 against the Irish, including Sunday’s ACC Championship.

Notre Dame became just the second team in ACC history to win the conference regular-season and tournament titles in four straight seasons, finishing that run at the HTC Center in Conway, South Carolina. The Blue Devils did it from 2001-04.

Five Irish players hit double figures, paced by Arike Ogunbowale’s 21 and 18 from Brianna Turner, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Erin Boley added 14 and Marina Mabrey chipped in 13.

Tournament MVP Lindsay Allen recorded her second double-double of the week with 11 points and 13 assists. In the process, she also broke the ACC tournament single-game record for assists and moved into first place in the Irish record book with the most assists in a single season (251). Allen also had a team-leading seven rebounds.

Duke’s Lexie Brown led her squad with 16 points, all of which came in the first half, while Rebecca Greenwell was the only other Blue Devil to post double digits with 12. Ironically, 10 of Greenwell’s dozen points came in the second half when Brown was held without a score.

Notre Dame jumped out to a quick 7-0 start, forcing the Blue Devils to take a timeout just over a minute into the game. Duke then managed to get its offense going, but the Blue Devils still trailed 27-18 after the first period. Brown drained back-to-back three pointers at the start of the second period to cut Notre Dame’s cushion to six. With three seconds left in the half, Allen grabbed a steal and took it all the way to the basket for a buzzer-beating bucket and a 43-31 advantage at intermission.

Notre Dame shot a sizzling 64 percent in the first half, and it was the most points the Blue Devils had given up in a first half all season.

Interestingly, the second half started for Notre Dame much the way the first half did for Duke. The Blue Devils went on a 10-0 run to cut Notre Dame’s lead to two, and Irish head coach Muffet McGraw was forced to use one of her timeouts at the 7:16 mark. A trey by Ogunbowale began a string of 14 unanswered points by Notre Dame, and in the blink of an eye the Irish were up, 63-43.

It was more of the same in the final 10 minutes and, with just under a minute left in the game, McGraw called another timeout, this time to get her starters off the floor and start the celebrating.

“It really is (special),” McGraw noted. “I think it's the kind of thing where you don't really appreciate it so much in the moment, and then you look back and you go, ‘dang, four straight years, we've done pretty well.’ And I think you've really got to credit Lindsay for that. What she's done in her four years…I don't know if anybody is going to replicate that.”

The Irish should receive a No. 1-seed in the Lexington (Ky.) regional when NCAA tournament pairings are announced on Mar. 13

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