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No. 7 Notre Dame struggles to beat Clemson 84-80

This was a win Notre Dame's Marina Mabrey wanted to forget, no matter how many points she scored. / Photo: MGN Online

This was a win Notre Dame's Marina Mabrey wanted to forget, no matter how many points she scored.

Mabrey scored 24 of her career-high 29 points in the second half to help the seventh-ranked Fighting Irish hold off stubborn Clemson 84-80 on Thursday night.

Despite her milestone, Notre Dame's eighth straight win or the Irish moving into first place alone in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Mabrey was distressed about her team's focus down the stretch.

"We were not ready to play at all," she said. "We almost learned a lesson tonight. We got lucky. Hopefully, we don't do something like that again."

Mabrey made sure it didn't happen against the resurgent Tigers, who came in winning three of their past five games after losing 41 in a row against ACC competition.

The sophomore scored 24 of Notre Dame's 41 points in the final two quarters, including several critical ones to keep the Tigers at bay.

After Nelly Perry cut a 17-point Notre Dame lead to 71-63 with 5:34 to go, Mabrey hit two baskets to extend the Irish edge. When Aliyah Collier basket drew Clemson within 80-77, Mabrey struck again with a jumper on the next Notre Dame possession.

And when Perry brought Clemson as close as it would come, 82-80, with two foul shots and 11.5 seconds remaining, Mabrey followed with the clinching foul shots.

"She was phenomenal," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said about Mabrey. "She took it all on her back."

Mabrey surpassed her previous career best of 27, set in a win over Louisiana-Lafayette in November.

Arike Ogunbowale had 15 points and Lindsay Allen 11 for the Fighting Irish. They left with first place in the ACC despite the closer-than- expected win. Florida State, tied with Notre Dame coming in, lost at Virginia 60-51.

Perry had a career best 24 points to lead Clemson. Kobi Thornton added 20 points, also a career best.

Notre Dame's Brianna Turner finished with just nine points, only the third time this season she was held under double digits.

THE BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Irish are heading into a major closing stretch where they'll face No. 21 Syracuse on Sunday, then playing Boston College next Thursday before closing with No. 4 Florida State on Feb. 26 — a game most likely that will decide the ACC title. Notre Dame pushed the pace at Clemson, hitting nearly 60 percent of its shots in the first two quarters. The Irish defense, though, gave up too many inside buckets to undersized Clemson. The Tigers scored 16 points in the paint despite not having a player in the lineup taller than 6-foot-2.

Clemson: The Tigers have made a late-season turnaround to a season that looked lost. Clemson had lost 41 straight to ACC competition and was blown out, 86-27, by Florida State at home on Jan. 15. But the Tigers have won three of their past five games since ending their winless string with 62-61 victory over Georgia Tech on Jan. 29.

TURNAROUND TIGERS

Clemson continued its strong run down the stretch against Notre Dame. The Tigers, who had lost their first eight ACC games, have won three of their past six. "This team is growing, they're growing, they're growing," Clemson fourth-year coach Audra Smith said. "They're getting better and better."

BAD IRISH

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said her team's defense was subpar once again, an issue she's dealt with way too often this season. "Our defense is just awful," she said. "We have no fight in our defense whatsoever. It's a shame because we could be really good."

McGraw said injured players like Kathryn Westbeld and Mychal Johnson should return soon to spark the defense.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame heads to No. 21 Syracuse on Sunday.

Clemson travels to No. 4 Florida State on Saturday.

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