SOUTH BEND – 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.