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Mercer overwhelmed by No. 3 Notre Dame, 128-42

December 31, 2011

MACON, Ga. (AP) — Susie Gardner was looking for an “instant wow” by adding Notre Dame to Mercer’s schedule.

After seeing the recruits, AAU coaches and others in the stands she said were drawn by the Notre Dame name, the Mercer coach said that goal was accomplished.

“On the other hand, our players learned what major Division I basketball looks like,” Gardner said.

Mercer, an Atlantic Sun team, was overwhelmed as No. 3 Notre Dame set several school records, including for most points in a game, in beating the Bears 128-42 Friday night.

Markisha Wright had 24 points and Skylar Diggins had 21 as Notre Dame stretched its winning streak to 10 games.

Notre Dame (13-1) set school marks for the biggest margin of victory, most free throws made (43) and attempted (52) and points in a half. The Irish matched their best-shooting night in school history by making 70.2 percent of their shots (40 of 57) from the field.

The rout was painful, said Mercer’s Ry’van Buchanan.

“We’ve got to go get some ice, put it on our behinds and just keep learning,” Buchanan said.

Gardner, who played on two Final Four teams at Georgia, called Notre Dame “just a great team.”

“They’re not huge, they’re not overly ‘wow’ athletic, but they play so hard,” Gardner said. “They just know the game. They’re just basketball players.”

The Irish needed only the first 10 minutes of the second half to reach 100 points for the first time this season.

Buchanan opened the game with a basket for Mercer. Notre Dame scored the next 17 points, as its defense caused an immediate rash of turnovers for the Bears.

“Obviously their pressure was something that not all of our players welcomed,” Gardner said.

Mercer managed to attempt only two shots from the field before Sharmesia Smith scored with 15:13 remaining in the half to end Notre Dame’s 17-0 run.

“That’s just a reality check just to toughen us up,” Buchanan said.

“It’s tough, real tough, to get embarrassed by almost 100 points.”

Notre Dame, looking for a repeat trip to the NCAA championship game, opens its Big East schedule at Seton Hall on Wednesday.

Mercer (3-10) couldn’t run its offense effectively against the pressure of the Irish’s man-to-man defense. The Bears had 28 turnovers, leading to 55 points for Notre Dame.

Diggins and Wright led seven Notre Dame scorers in double figures. Kaila Turner had 17. Natalie Novosel and Natalie Achonwa each had 13 for the Irish, who lost to Texas A&M in last season’s national championship game.

Briana Williams led Mercer with 10 points, but made only 2 of 12 shots from the field.

Wright’s three-point play with 3:29 remaining pushed Notre Dame past its previous record of 113 points against Liberty on Nov. 24, 1989.

“I had no clue about the history,” Wright said.

Wright, who made 10 of 12 shots, played 20 minutes off the bench. She said a deep bench keeps Notre Dame players from relaxing after building a big lead.

“You take very minute you play your hardest,” Wright said, adding “if you get out, you might not come back in.”

Notre Dame led 72-30 at halftime to easily set a team record for the most points in a half, topping the 62 points it scored in the second half against West Virginia on Jan. 9, 1997.

The Irish made 24 of 30 shots (80 percent) from the field in the dominant half.

Notre Dame came within one point of matching the team record for the biggest halftime lead — 43 points at 58-15 against Indiana State on Nov. 13.

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said she scheduled the game to give Atlanta native Fraderica Miller a chance to play in her home state. Miller, a senior guard, made her first career start and had eight points, 11 rebounds and three steals.

It was Notre Dame’s first game in the state of Georgia in 15 years.

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