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Sunday February 14th, 2016 7:40AM

Loyd's 27 leads No. 2 Irish to 87-72 win Lady Jackets

By The Associated Press
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Georgia Tech couldn't keep Jewell Loyd from driving inside.

Sometimes the Notre Dame sophomore got behind the defenders, and other times she drove past them for layups.

She finished with 27 points and nine rebounds to lead the second-ranked Fighting Irish to an 87-72 victory over Georgia Tech on Monday night in a game in which Notre Dame's upper classmen struggled after being honored on senior night.

"I think next year we're going to have senior night the first day of classes, Aug. 27," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. "I feel like every year it's the same thing with the emotion of the moment."

Loyd said she just stuck to the game plan.

"Just cutting to the middle, attacking when we could off the press, just trying to make open shots," she said.

Loyd scored seven straight at the end of the first half, capped by an alley-oop layup, then had back-to-back layups early in the second half to give the Irish a 16-point lead that was extended to 22.

Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph described Loyd as relentless.

"She gets it done, and you don't even know she's getting it done," she said. "The thing I like about her game is how hard she plays."

Joseph was pleased by her team's hustle, but disappointed by the Yellow Jackets' shooting touch.

"When we shoot 31 percent from the field it's tough for us to win games, especially against a team as good as Notre Dame," she said.

The Irish honored their seniors on Monday even though they still have home games left against Duke and North Carolina. The senior class of Natalie Achonwa, Kayla McBride, and Ariel Braker improved their four-year record at Notre Dame to 125-14.

The school record for wins by a senior class was set last season by Skylar Diggins and her classmates with a mark of 130-20.

Achonwa, who started the game 1-of-3 from the floor and 1-of-5 from the free-throw line, scored 18 points in the second half to finish with 21 points and 10 rebounds. She said the senior night activities, which included singing the Canadian national anthem in her honor, took the players out of their routine.

"It kind of got us out of our rhythm," she said. "It just took us a little bit to refocus."

McBride finished with 12 points despite struggling on 3-of-13 shooting, but finished with a career-high eight assists.

The Irish (25-0, 12-0 ACC) are five wins shy of their longest winning streak, set last season. The loss ended a four-game winning streak for the Yellow Jackets (17-9, 7-6), who were led by a career-high 21 points by Aaliyah Whiteside.

"We didn't have an answer for her," said McGraw, who tied former Virginia coach Debbie Ryan (739-324) for 10th in career victories.

The Yellow Jackets also had 26 offensive rebounds, leading to 26 second-chance points. They scored 22 points off of 15 Notre Dame turnovers, but couldn't overcome their poor shooting.

Joseph said Notre Dame's physical play gave the Yellow Jackets trouble.

"They really bodied us and pushed us off line," she said.

Georgia Tech's Tyaunna Marshall averaged 24.1 points in her eight previous games and scored at least 20 points in seven of them. She made 8 of 24 shots on Monday and finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.

"She's a great player. She is so hard to guard," McGraw said. "She struggled a little bit in the first half, but we just could not box her out."

Kaela Davis added 15 points for the Yellow Jackets, and Sydney Wallace had 11.

Joseph, who is from Auburn, about 80 miles from South Bend, and played at Purdue, said her family made it to the game despite a heavy snowstorm.

"It means a lot to me to risk all that to support me and to support the team," she said.
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