MOUNT PLEASANT - Central Michigan gave No. 5 Notre Dame its toughest test of the season Thursday night, but ultimately 25 points from All-American Skylar Diggins helped the Fighting Irish escape with a 72-63 victory inside McGuirk Arena.
The Chippewas (2-3), hosting their first top-five opponent in program history, were not fazed by the 2012 National Runner-Up, showing that they can compete with the nation's elite in front of a home crowd of 3,879. Hot shooting was the key for the Maroon and Gold as they knocked down 6-of-13 three-point attempts in a first half that saw 10 lead changes and the score tied five times.
Junior guard Kylie Welch knocked down a trey from the top of the key to give the Chippewas their first lead of the game, 5-4, and a free throw by senior Brandie Baker and layup by sophomore Jessica Green gave CMU its largest lead of the game at the 14:58 mark of the first half, 10-6.
After Green tied the game at 22-22 with 8:41 to play in the first half, Notre Dame went on an 8-1 run over 2:19 to claim a 30-23 lead. The Chippewas responded with a run of their own though, as senior guard Jalisa Olive sparked a 10-0 run with five-straight points that allowed CMU to take the lead, 33-30. A layup by sophomore Jas'Mine Bracey at the 3:41 mark gave CMU its last lead of the game, 35-34, as the Fighting Irish went into halftime with a 40-39 advantage.
The Irish extended their lead to eight twice in the first six minutes of the second half and led 49-41 before a layup by sophomore Crystal Bradford, a three from junior Niki DiGuilio and another layup, this time by junior Taylor Johnson, pulled the Chippewas back within one, 49-48.
ND continued to hold a slight advantage thanks in part to its size, scoring 12 of its next 14 points in the paint to extend its lead back to nine, 64-55. The Chippewas would not go away however, as Olive again scored five-straight points with a pair of free throws and a deep three from the right wing to pull within four, 64-60.
The four-point deficit would be as close as the Chippewas would get, as three-straight from Diggins and a layup by Natalie Achonwa pushed the lead to 69-60 with just over a minute to play.
Diggins knocked down 12-of-14 from the line en route to scoring a game-high 25 points, while Achonwa finished with a double-double, scoring 11 and pulling down 10 boards.
Green led the Chippewas with 19 points and five steals, while DiGuilio knocked down 4-of-5 from deep for 12 points. Olive gave CMU three players in double figures with 10, and Bradford tied her career high with five blocks in the game.
Turnovers were costly in the contest, as Notre Dame turned 23 CMU turnovers into 25 points. The Irish also held a major advantage in free throws, shooting 31 attempts to CMU's 12. CMU's bench was able to outplay the Irish, 34-19, marking the fifth time in as many games that the bench has outscored the opponent's.
The road doesn't get any easier for the Chippewas as they hit the road to take on No. 14 Purdue this Sunday in Mackey Arena. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. and the game can be seen live on the Big Ten Network.