Vandy falls 74-69 in battle with Notre Dame

Champions aren't satisfied with "almost." Competitors don't take any delight from a hard fought "near win." And defending SEC Champions and No. 18/16 ranked Vanderbilt (11-2) gave No. 3 Notre Dame (12-0) and a nationally televised audience plenty of reasons to take notice in a 74-69 loss on New Year's Eve.

The Commodores came to play Thursday, and they did not stop fighting the Irish until the final buzzer. Vandy led by as many as 8 points in the first half, beating a team in the first 16 minutes of the half that had never trailed by more than 5 points. In the second half, with Notre Dame's largest lead a 14 point advantage, the sellout crowd of 9,148 at Purcell Pavilion likely thought "game over," and yet another blowout, but the ‘Dores answered with runs, and in the final seven seconds, trimmed the lead to three at 72-69 on a Jessica Mooney jumper. A Commodore turnover and a foul on an inbounds pass led to the charity stripe two-pointer by the Irish's Lindsay Schrader to put the game away for good.

This test, just two days before SEC play kicks off Sunday, went in favor of the Irish, who have now beaten SEC teams 7 out of 7 times. There were lessons to be had for both teams, and in a match riddled with fouls on both sides, the play of Vandy freshman phenom Tiffany Clarke, who fouled out with 3:24 remaining, was sorely missed in the battle of the paint. Tiffany was one rebound shy of her second double-double with 11 points and 9 rebounds. She also tied her career high 3 blocks on the defensive end.

Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb pointed to offensive rebounding as the crucial difference. "Whenever you give up twenty-six offensive rebounds it is going to be a tough game. Particularly when Tiffany (Clarke) had to come out because of foul trouble I knew we were going to have a hard time because she is our best rebounder." Vanderbilt grabbed 15 offense rebounds and 41 for the game, compared to 56 total for Notre Dame.

Tiffany replied, "I have to just play smarter basketball. More or less my main goal is to control my frustration." In her defense, several fouls were questionable and the coaching staff was quite vocal in expressing those frustrations to referees during the game.

Three other ‘Dores scored in double figures, including Jence Rhoads who led the team with 18 points. Merideth Marsh, who hit two of Vandy's five 3 pointers, had 11 points and Jessica Mooney finished with 10. Hannah Tuomi (8 points and 9 rebounds) and Lauren Lueders (8 points and 8 rebounds) helped drive the game's tempo as well.

Vanderbilt recorded 8 steals, three snagged by Jence, while holding Notre Dame to 7, less than half their average of 16 per game. Vandy also had fewer turnovers with 14 to the Irish's 16.

Next up is Ole Miss (9-4) at 2 p.m. Sunday in Memorial Gym. The Rebels' four losses are to unranked Arizona and Old Dominion, and No. 17 Texas and No. 6 Ohio State, who edged the SEC team 79-77.

Lauren Lueders and Rebecca Silinski celebrate a first half lead.

Vanderbilt defenders triple team Notre Dame's Devereaux Peters.

Tiffany Clarke leaps for two points.

Jence Rhoads drives around a defender.

Lauren Lueders holds position as Notre Dame's Lindsay Schrader falls.

Hannah Tuomi listens as Devereaux Peters pleads a foul charge.

Merideth Marsh takes it to the basket.

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