Fans filled Reitz Arena last night and put up numerous banners, brought plenty of balloons and kept up an ear-splitting roar for much of the traditional Institute of Notre Dame-Mercy matchup.
But take away all of the extras, and this game boiled down to one thing -- IND made the plays and Mercy did not.
IND held Mercy without a rebound for nearly 13 minutes to start the game, and the Indians then held the Sharpshooters without a basket for the final quarter to score a 52-38 victory before a raucous capacity crowd of 3,000 at Loyola College in a Catholic League game.
IND (7-6, 4-2) used patience on offense, good rebounding and tough defense to stay in control for much of the game. The Indians also used big fourth quarters from Shannon Skopp (16 FTC points) and Robin Johnson (12 points) to pull away from Mercy (5-9, 1-4).
Mercy took advantage of an 18-2 run to overcome a 15-point first-half deficit and take a one-point lead midway through the third quarter. But that seemed to awaken IND, which made five straight shots to take a 38-31 lead with 53 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Indians played even tighter defense in the fourth quarter. Their man-to-man rarely allowed Mercy good looks at the basket, and the Sharpshooters missed all 15 shots and scored only five )) points on free throws.
"Down the stretch we were after every loose ball," said IND coach Deb Taylor. "Now they're playing aggressive [basketball]."
They played aggressive early also. IND grabbed the game's first 14 rebounds -- including all 10 in the first quarter -- and took a 24-9 lead midway through the second quarter.
But Shannon Cohen (18 points) and Beth Simmons (nine points) sparked the 18-2 run that brought Mercy back into it. But Johnson (10 rebounds) and Skopp began forming an inside-outside combination too tough for Mercy.
The spirit involved in this game lifted both teams at different times. Fans began arriving 90 minutes before game time to post signs, bring all sorts of extras and start cheering.
By game time, a tremendous roar had built that never stopped. Any basket or free throw was accompanied by a loud rush of noise.
"It definitely pumps them up, it definitely takes them to another level," said Mercy coach Mary Ella Marion.
Marion said she felt optimistic early despite being down 15. The Indians made eight of their first 15 shots, and Marion said she knew they would not keep up that pace.
But when the Sharpshooters had a chance in the second half, they could not pull it off.