SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Jackie Young unmasked herself, and North Carolina State was immediately in trouble.
After playing the better part of two months with a protective mask over her broken nose, Young discarded it in the first quarter. She went on to lead four players in double figures as No. 5 Notre Dame won its 12th straight, 86-67 over the 21st-ranked Wolfpack, to wrap up a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title.
“I got hit and decided to take it off,” Young said after hitting 8 of 11 shots, dishing out a team-high five assists, making four steals and grabbing six rebounds. “The doctor said I didn’t have to wear it anymore. As time went on, I got used to it. Sometimes I feel like I get hit more because I have a mask on.”
Young got help from her backcourt mates Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey. Ogunbowale had 21 points with the help of four 3-pointers and Marina Mabrey had 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting for the Irish (27-2, 15-1 ACC). Kathryn Westbeld, one of four seniors saluted before the game, scored 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting and added six rebounds and four assists.
It all left coach Muffet McGraw shedding tears after the game.
“I think that’s the first deep breath I’ve taken since Nov. 1,” McGraw said after her team overcame four ACL injuries during the season and rebounded from a 100-67 loss to Louisville on Jan. 11.
The Irish haven’t lost since and ended up sharing the league title with the fourth-ranked Cardinals.
“I’m just so proud of this team and what they have overcome,” McGraw said. “We kept losing people during the year, but we never put our heads down or felt sorry for ourselves. They just came to work every single day. This was the most rewarding championship I think we’ve had. I’ll play every day as Senior Day if Kathryn comes out and plays like that.”
Ogunbowale scored 10 points in the second quarter as the Irish led by as many as 13 points with 69.2-percent shooting before settling for a 39-31 halftime lead.
Coach Wes Moore’s Wolfpack (22-7, 11-5) closed the margin to 45-43 with 6:08 remaining in the third quarter. But Ogunbowale’s 3-pointer started a 21-6 Irish run that was fueled by Westbeld, Mabrey and Young. Ogunbowale’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer supplied the exclamation point and sent Notre Dame into the fourth quarter up 66-49.
Kaila Ealey scored 18 points, Chelsea Nelson had 15 and Kiara Leslie added 10 for N.C. State, which had won three straight and 10 of its last 11.
“Notre Dame’s transition is so good,” Moore said. “We knew coming into the game we had to take care of the ball because if you turn it over that just gets them going. You’ve got to give them credit. Muffet’s done a great job considering all the injuries they’ve had.”
N.C. State: The Wolfpack entered the game second nationally in rebounding margin at plus-11, but Notre Dame won the battle on the boards 37-28. N.C. State, which averaged 22.4 free throws a game (seventh nationally) coming in, shot only 12 against Notre Dame, making 10.
Notre Dame: The Irish won a piece of their fifth straight ACC regular-season title and seventh conference title overall, counting two in the Big East. Notre Dame is now 77-3 (40-0 at home) in ACC regular-season play. One of the three losses was last season’s league opener at N.C. State.
N.C. State: Plays its opening-round ACC tournament game Thursday in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Notre Dame: Opens ACC tournament play in a quarterfinal on Friday.