Muffet McGraw honored for her 900th basketball win
By Anthony Anderson, Tribune Correspondent, South Bend Tribune
McGraw, besides becoming a dash misty during a postgame ceremony in her honor, earned her 900th career women’s college basketball head coaching win as No. 2-ranked Notre Dame downed Lehigh, 95-68, Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion in front of more than 6,000 fans.
The victory coincidentally came in McGraw’s first-ever matchup against the school with which she notched her initial 88 wins.
The Hawks remained on their bench, remained engaged and often clapped during the approximately five-minute postgame celebration that included a tribute video, falling confetti, McGraw’s players donning specially designed shirts for the occasion and more.
Then the visiting players even hustled to center court once invited to join in on a celebratory photo.
“Honestly, you never want to lose,” Lehigh coach Sue Troyan said, “but if you’re going to lose a game to one of the top teams in the country, one of the top coaches in the country, and she’s getting her 900th win, if I’m going to take a game to lose, that’s a game I’m losing.”
“It was awesome,” Hawk junior forward and former Penn High School star Camryn Buhr insisted after being on the down side of history. “Not many teams get to say they even played against Notre Dame, let alone give (McGraw her) 900th win, but it was cool. I mean, she started at Lehigh. … That’s cool for us and her as well.”
McGraw — 900-272 in her 37th season overall, including 812-231 in her 32nd at ND — became the fourth-quickest coach in NCAA Division I history to reach the 900 milestone.
“I thought it was really fitting that Lehigh was our opponent today,” McGraw said of the only other college program she’s coached. “Seems like a really long time ago, but I just have great memories about being there, and it made it more special to have them here, and to be surrounded by some former players, and by this current team, and (husband) Matt and (son) Murph. So definitely a memorable moment in my career.”
Natalie Achonwa, Jeannine Augustin and Devereaux Peters were among the ex-ND standouts attending, along with Ariel Braker, who was present as a Lehigh assistant.
Arike Ogunbowale tallied a game-high 23 points. Along the way she passed Ruth Riley for fourth place on the program’s all-time scoring chart and now stands at 2,077.
Marina Mabrey added 19 points, drained 3-of-4 on 3-pointers and dished a game-high seven of the winners’ 26 assists.
The sharp-shooting Irish (12-1) hit 35-of-57 field goals for 61.4 percent and 20-of-24 free throws for 83.3 percent.
“It’s so amazing,” fifth-year Irish post Brianna Turner said about being part of McGraw’s 900th win after contributing 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots to the cause. “She’s such a remarkable coach. I’m pretty sure I was here for 800, and now for 900, and hopefully, I can come back and be here when she gets a thousand. She’s such a pioneer and she’s always encouraged us to be the best we can be.”
“I was honored to be out there and get to see what she’s meant to Notre Dame,” Troyan explained of having her team remain courtside for the postgame, “and not only has she meant that to Notre Dame, but she’s meant that to women’s basketball. I know she’s a significant, significant figure at this place, but that’s how she’s viewed nationally — for a lot of women and male coaches. She’s a true role model.”
Troyan, in her 24th year as Lehigh head coach, originally arrived at the Bethlehem, Pa., school as a graduate assistant just two years after McGraw left.
“She’s been a true mentor for me,” Troyan said. “She’s opened up her doors in terms of allowing me to come to practices, allowing me to come into coaches’ meetings. I usually make a trip out here in the postseason when our season is done — we don’t go quite as far as they do in the NCAA Tournament — but two or three times over my career I’ve spent two or three days here, and she gives full access.”
Troyan’s scrappy Hawks (8-3) trailed the Irish just 20-19 after the first quarter, then took their final lead of the day at 21-20 in the opening minute of the second period.
Notre Dame, which led 46-31 by halftime, outscored Lehigh 56-29 in the middle quarters and owned its largest lead of 75-44 at 1:31 to go in the third period.
“I think we’re sharing the ball well,” McGraw said after her team’s fifth straight win. “We had some rough patches defensively, but offensively, I felt we did some good things. Too many turnovers (17) — I thought we got a little sloppy at times — but I’m trying to focus on the good things today.”
The Irish totaled at least 25 assists for the fourth consecutive game after averaging 16.0 over their first nine outings.
“I think it’s just transferring practice to game,” Turner said. “In practice, we always try to focus on making the extra pass, moving on high-low or just swinging the ball around quicker, so we’re just trying to translate that to the game more.”
Jessica Shepard collected 14 points, seven rebounds and a season-high six assists for ND, and Jackie Young netted 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting to go with four assists and a season-high four steals.
Sophomore Mary Clougherty led the Hawks with 14 points and four assists.
Buhr tallied 11 points and grabbed six rebounds in her homecoming game, but was 4-of-12 from the field and had six of Lehigh’s 20 turnovers.
“I wasn’t that nervous, actually,” Buhr said of playing at ND, “and I think our whole team, we just kind of came in with confidence to compete with the opportunity. We weren’t going to be afraid of them and I think that we showed that coming out strong. … They’re tough and they’re strong, and they’re a little bit more athletic and taller than us, and I think that kind of got the best of us, but I don’t think we ever lost our effort or attitude.”
Buhr has scored in double digits in every game this season on her way to team-leading averages of 13.3 points and 6.7 rebounds, while no other Hawk is averaging double digits.
“Super proud of her,” Troyan said of Buhr. “She’s such a competitor, and she’s really kind of the glue of our team on both ends of the floor.”