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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, February 26, 2013 9:17 pm

No. 2 Notre Dame beats No. 22 Syracuse 79-68

By TOM COYNEAssociated Press

Kayla McBride scored 25 points and Skylar Diggins added 24 points and eight assists as second-ranked Notre Dame overcame a 15-point first-half deficit to beat No. 22 Syracuse 79-68 on Tuesday night, the 21st straight victory for the Fighting Irish.

The Irish (26-1, 14-0 Big East) struggled early, hitting just 2-of-16 shots to start the game as the Orange (22-5, 10-4) jumped to a 22-7 lead. But 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. The Irish cruised from there as they improved to 26-2 all-time against the Orange.

After shooting just 31 percent in the first half and being outrebounded 32-20, the Irish shot 44 percent in the second half and had a 26-13 rebounding edge. Kayla Alexander led Syracuse with 24 points and 16 rebounds and Carmen Tyson-Thomas had 18 points.

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.

Notre Dame held its senior night Tuesday even though it still has a home game Monday against third-ranked UConn. 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 Irish looked as if their winning streak might be in jeopardy early, as they had trouble shooting and trouble rebounding when Natalie Achonwa sat down with her second foul four minutes into the game. The Orange quickly jumped to a 13-3 lead as Brittney Sykes hit a 3 and Alexander had back-to-back three point plays. The Orange opened a 22-7 lead when Alexander scored inside. The Irish had no answer for Alexander early as she made her first six shots and she and Sykes dominated the rebounding.

Diggins sparked the Irish, though, starting the 13-2 run with a 10-foot jumper, then drove inside for another basket. She then muscled in a 3-pointer a Syracuse defender got a hand on, and then capped the run with a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 39-36.

The Orange led 43-40 at halftime, but the Irish opened the second half on a 9-0 run as McBride scored a pair of baskets, the first giving her 1,000 career points. Carmen Tyson-Thomas scored a pair of baskets to cut the lead to 53-49, but Syracuse couldn't maintain the momentum as the Irish answered with a 7-0 spurt to open a 60-49 lead.

Notre Dame extended the lead to 64-51 on a basket inside by McBride. The Orange had one last gasp, using an 8-0 run to 65-59 on a pair of baskets by Tyson-Thomas. But they couldn't get any closer than six.