COLUMBUS — The fourth time will now have to be the charm for the Notre Dame Eagles, if they are fortunate enough to have another chance next season.
After a solid first half, the seventh-ranked Eagles (24-4) came out flat in the third quarter of Friday night’s Division I girls state basketball semifinal against top-ranked Cincinnati Princeton and lost 60-52 at the Schottenstein Center.
“It was one of the most well-played games on both sides that I have seen,” Eagles coach Travis Galloway said. “Both teams made unbelievable plays throughout the game. It started out that way and continued the whole way through.
“Our kids battled back and gave themselves a chance to make a run late in the game. We just had a couple shots toward the end not fall, and they made a couple shots and hit free throws down the stretch.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for more photos from the game
It was the third straight year that Notre Dame fell in a D-I semifinal here. The Eagles are the only Toledo team, boys or girls, to reach a state final four three years in a row.
The culprit this time was an eight-minute stretch in which they were outscored 12-5 by the Vikings (27-2) after having played Princeton even 33-33 in a superb first half by each team.
“Maybe we didn’t move enough offensively and kind of got a little stagnant,” Galloway said of the lull. “We had a couple plays in transition where, if we converted, that [third] quarter’s totally different.
“But, that’s basketball. They continued their hot shooting from the arc, got a few loose balls, and finished layups off of that. The rest of the game was pretty much dead even.”
The Vikings (27-2) were led by Kelsey Mitchell, Ohio’s Ms. Basketball, who had 23 points, and by fellow senior Carlie Pogue, who added 18 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Notre Dame got 21 points and six rebounds from its first-team All-Ohioan Tierra Floyd and 16 points and five boards from fellow 6-foot-2 junior Kaayla McIntyre.
Both stated afterward that they are determined to return for a fourth shot at a title in 2015. The Eagles graduate only one senior starter — 6-foot forward Jayda Worthy.
The entertaining first half featured high-level offensive basketball from both teams, led by their respective All-Ohioans.
Mitchell mixed two 3-pointers into her 16 first-half points, while Floyd went 3-for-6 on 3-pointers en route to 15 points by halftime.
“She’s a great player, and we were just in the moment,” said Mitchell, an Ohio State recruit who played for the first time on her future home court. “It’s real big and the lights are very bright. But it’s something I think I can get used to.”
Floyd was Mitchell’s equal over the first 16 minutes.
“I knew I had to come out strong because I felt last year I let my team down by not playing my best,” said Floyd, who was scoreless in last year’s 37-31 semifinal loss to eventual D-I champion Kettering Fairmont. “I felt I left all on the court tonight.
“As a team, we played great. It’s disappointing, but in some possessions our shots just didn’t fall.”
The Eagles hit just two of their eight third-quarter field-goal attempts and were outrebounded 12-3 by the Vikings, who took a 45-38 lead to the final quarter.
“We made some tough some and got some big stops on defense,” Princeton coach Jill Phillips said of the pivotal quarter, “and we were able to turn those stops into points and build a little bit of a lead.
“That gave us a cushion going into the fourth quarter.”
Notre Dame got no closer than four points from there as Princeton iced things with 9-for-14 shooting at the foul line in the fourth quarter.
“We continued to play,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t settle. We didn’t get comfortable. We had to keep playing the way we did in the first half.”
The Eagles’ last serious run at the Vikings came when Worthy’s inside bucket got them within 53-49 with 1:20 remaining. But Princeton hit four of six free throws over the next 45 seconds before Notre Dame got its final points on a 3-pointer from Floyd that made it 57-52 with 28 seconds left.
Both teams shot 42 percent from the field, with Notre Dame going 19 of 45 and Princeton 21 of 50. The Eagles were eight of 15 from the line, the Vikings 12 of 19. Princeton outrebounded the taller Eagles 36-25.
Freshman wing Mariah Copeland contributed eight points and a team-high seven rebounds for Notre Dame, which also got six points and five boards from Worthy.
“I think I left it all on the floor, but I should have hit a few more free throws [4 for 9 at line] than I did,” McIntyre said. “But it was a great game to be in. They just made more shots than we did.”
The Eagles’ thoughts now turn to next season.
“To leave it all on the floor, and not finish the game and win it, is motivation for me,” McIntyre said. “I want it really bad.”
Added Galloway: “A lot of coaches would love to have the chance to do this once. To have a chance to do it three times with three very different types of teams is very special.
“We’re going to have a fire to get back down here. It’s not any easy road. You’ve got to play well at the right times, have a little luck on your side, and have tremendous chemistry.”
Added Floyd: “We have to come in with the mindset that we can get back here. We can’t dwell on this game. Next year we’ll do bigger and better things.”