SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Already thin up front with the loss of two players to season-ending ACL injuries, coach Muffet McGraw of No. 2 Notre Dame didn't know what to expect from junior forward Jessica Shepard and her sprained ankle against Syracuse in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both Thursday night.
"I found out when I got here when the trainer said Jessica was going to try to go," McGraw said.
Go she did. Shepard played 33 minutes and finished with her sixth double-double of the season and third in a row, scoring 24 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, as the Irish pulled away in the fourth quarter for an 87-72 victory over the upset-minded Orange.
"I just came in with the mindset that I was going to play," said Shepard, a transfer from Nebraska who has picked up the slack of All-America Brianna Turner and freshman recruit Mikayla Vaughn, who are both out for the season. "There was no time to debate it. Once I was out there I just had to go out and play hard."
Shepard was one of four players in double figures scoring for the Irish (12-1, 1-0). Sophomore Jackie Young, with a new mask protecting a broken nose, tied her career-high with 23 points thanks to 10-of-16 shooting.
"Offensively we're doing some good things; we shot the ball really well from the 3-point line," McGraw said. "We were attacking, finding the open man and Jackie really turned it on in the fourth quarter. I'm just frustrated with our inability to defend. We've got to find some answers and continue to work hard at it."
Kathryn Westbeld had 16 points with the help of three 3-pointers and Arike Ogunbowale had 12 points for the Irish, who finished with a 40-39 edge on the boards after trailing 27-17 in the category after the first 20 minutes.
Sophomore point guard Tiana Mangakahia had a game-high 26 points, eight assists and nine rebounds to lead Syracuse (12-2, 0-1). Miranda Drummond added 15 points.
"Tiana is fantastic - she's a tough kid, a competitor," Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman said. "When you come and play one of the best teams in the country, you have to play clean basketball. We played them pretty good for three quarters. At times we got shots and took care of the glass. As the game went on, their size wore us down. They got 48 points in the paint - that's tough."
Syracuse never led in the first half but a 27-17 edge on the boards made Notre Dame work for its 42-38 lead. The Orange had two one-point leads in the third quarter after Hillsman drew a technical foul with 7:50 to go in the third period. But an 11-0 run led by Shepard, Young and Ogunbowale coincided with a 3-minute scoring drought by Syracuse to send the Irish into the fourth quarter with a 64-58 lead.
Young scored eight points on 4-of-5 shooting and Westbeld scored six as the Irish pulled away to a 79-61 lead with 5:24 remaining.
Syracuse: The Orange lost one game - to No. 5 Mississippi State - in pre-ACC play but stayed with Notre Dame for most of the first three quarters. Hillsman seems to have found himself a point guard in the 5-foot-6 Mangakahia, a sophomore from Australia.
Notre Dame: The Irish did a good job defending the 3-point shot by Syracuse, which was 4 of 14 (28.6 percent) in the first half. But the long rebounds found their way back to the Orange, who outrebounded Notre Dame 27-17, including 16-7 in the second quarter. But the Irish had a 23-12 rebounding edge in the second half.
Notre Dame hit 10 of 15 shots in the fourth quarter (66.7 percent) to finish the game at 32 of 68 (47.1 percent), including 7 of 14 from beyond the 3-point line (50 percent). Westbeld, who was 6-of-8 shooting, hit all three of her 3-pointers, while Young hit 2 of 4 and guard Marina Mabrey hit 2 of 5. Syracuse hit just 9 of 26 from beyond the arch (Mangakahia was 4 of 7 and Drummond 3 of 6) for 34.6 percent and finished shooting 26 of 64 from the field (40.6 percent).
Mangakahia came into the game averaging 2.6 steals a game and had two steals. Notre Dame reserve point guard Lili Thompson, a graduate transfer from Stanford, played 22 minutes and had four steals, three in the critical fourth quarter, to match Westbeld as Notre Dame had 10 steals.
Syracuse: Visits Virginia on Sunday.
Notre Dame: Travels to Wake Forest on Sunday.