Nov. 26, 2011
FREEPORT, Bahamas (AP) - Natalie Novosel couldn't have had much worse of a first half for Notre Dame.
The senior guard missed nine of her 10 shots and just wasn't in sync on offense.
Yet she didn't stop shooting, banking in a shot from the foul line with under a second left to lift the fourth-ranked Irish to a 56-54 win over No. 7 Duke in the Junkanoo Jam final on Saturday night.
"This is unbelievable. It's surreal. It's an amazing, amazing feeling," Novosel said. "I almost fell out of bounds. The ball was supposed to go to the middle. I caught the ball and I had my eye on the rim and I knew that's where I was going. I wasn't even trying to get contact for a foul. Just focused on the rim and shot it. I drove right to the foul line and took off with one leg, and used the backboard to my advantage, and I banked it in."
Skylar Diggins scored 19 points and Novosel had 15 for the Irish (5-1), who rallied from a 16-point halftime deficit.
"I just kept going," said Novosel, who was averaging 17.6 points coming into the game. "They were bound to fall. Someway I had to find a way to score. I have confidence in myself and know my team has confidence in me. I knew I had to keep shooting for us to win."
Freshman Elizabeth Williams had 16 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks for Duke (4-1).
Trailing 54-51 with 1:35 left, the Irish had three chances to tie the game, but missed three 3-pointers. Kayla McBride got fouled on an offensive rebound and made the first of two free throws to cut the deficit to two.
After Chelsea Gray missed a shot for Duke on the other end, Diggins scored to tie it at 54. Shay Selby missed a shot with 9 seconds left before Novosel's game-winner.
"I thought Natalie Novosel really came alive in the second half, and I thought Skylar played an incredible game," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "This is such a huge lift for us, because, I know we were feeling really down on ourselves at halftime, wondering what happened. Then we were able to come together and play as a team. I thought Fraderica Miller was a catalyst. Her defense was incredible. Brittany Mallory made some big defensive stops. Everybody contributed."
Notre Dame trailed 36-20 at the half, but clamped down on defense. After Haley Peters' layup gave Duke an 18-point lead 45 seconds into the second half, the Blue Devils missed their next 14 shots.
Diggins had six points during a 21-3 run and Novosel scored to tie it at 41.
Gray finally ended an 11 1/2-minute drought for Duke with a layup that gave it a 43-41 edge with 7:48 left.
Neither team could build more than a four-point lead the rest of the way.
With the game tied at 51, Williams made a layup with 2:44 left. After a stop by Duke, Richa Jackson hit one of two free throws with 1:35 left, setting up the exciting finish.
"This is unbelievable," McGraw said. "We played so poorly in the first half. We just couldn't do anything right at either end. We didn't rebound. We couldn't make a shot. And then at halftime, we just said, `Hey, we're not playing our game.' And they decided they were going to come out and play a little better defense. Then we got some easy baskets because of that."
The Irish, who matched the biggest rally in school history, missed 11 of their first 12 shots as the Blue Devils raced out to a 15-6 lead.
The Blue Devils shot just 19 percent from the field in the second half.
"We didn't attack as much," Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "Obviously they picked up the aggression. It was two different halves, almost the same exact score each half. We did some great things the first half, and they did better things in the second half. A few rebounds here or there, but that's the way the game goes. You have to be ready."
POST GAME NOTES: Notre Dame tied a school record for the largest comeback victory in school history, matching the 18-point rally it posted in a 59-57 win at No. 20/18 Vanderbilt on Dec. 30, 2008, in Nashville, Tenn. (the Fighting Irish trailed 46-28 with 15:56 to play in that game before coming back to earn the victory) ... Novosel's shot was the first buzzer-beating winning shot by a Notre Dame player since Jan. 10, 2006, when Megan Duffy hit an off-handed layup at the buzzer in overtime (the last of her career-high 32 points) in a 67-65 win over Marquette at Purcell Pavilion -- ironically, Duffy was in the Bahamas this weekend as an assistant coach for St. John's, which split its two games in the Lucaya Division (the other four-team bracket at this year's Junkanoo Jam) ... the Fighting Irish win their ninth regular-season tournament title in the past 11 tries, dating back to the 1996-97 season, and their first since last year's State Farm Holiday Hoops Classic in Seattle ... the Fighting Irish have won 31 of their last 35 regular-season tournament games, including the aforementioned nine tournament titles ... Notre Dame is 5-0 all-time when playing in the Caribbean (the Fighting Irish won three in a row to claim the 2009 Paradise Jam title in the U.S Virgin Islands) ... Notre Dame earns its first win over a top-10 opponent this season ... the Fighting Irish finish with a 5-1 record in the month of November, improving to 71-14 (.835) all-time in the second-to-last month of the calendar year ... Notre Dame is 5-1 all-time against Duke and has defeated the Blue Devils in their last three series matchups, all when Duke was ranked seventh or higher in the Associated Press poll ... the 54 points are the fewest Notre Dame has allowed to the Blue Devils in the six-game series ... Notre Dame allowed its fewest points against a top-10 opponent since Jan. 23, 2005, when it defeated No. 6/7 Rutgers, 63-47 at Purcell Pavilion ... it's also the fewest points the Fighting Irish have allowed to a top-10 foe away from home (road or neutral sites) since March 27, 2004, when Notre Dame fell to No. 5/7 Penn State, 55-49 in the NCAA East Regional semifinals at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. ... junior guard Skylar Diggins moved into a tie for 20th place on the Fighting Irish all-time scoring list with 1,194 points, matching Krissi Davis' total from 1987-91 ... Diggins also collected a season-high eight rebounds in the win over Duke ... Novosel was named the Freeport Division Most Valuable Player for the Junkanoo Jam, adding that MVP honor to her similar award from last year's WBCA Classic at Purcell Pavilion ... Novosel and Diggins both were named to the Junkanoo Jam Freeport Division All-Tournament Team, adding that honor to the same designation they copped for the Preseason WNIT earlier this season.