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Fordham hosted Notre Dame in a Bronx tale that delivered

Ray Floriani interviews Muffet McGraw on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. - Karen Floriani

BRONX, NY -- The Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Fordham Rams played in front of a sold-out Rose Hill Gymnasium on Tuesday. The 2019-20 season opener for both may not have been an artistic success, but the intensity of the teams was noticeable and admirable from start to finish.

Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley noted that any first-time attendees coming out to the game had to have enjoyed what they saw because both squads left it all out on the floor. There is a great chance that a number of those first-time attendees will be back.

With intensity came turnovers, a concern for Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw who said after the game, "We are young but have to do a better job taking care of the ball."

Notre Dame committed 21 turnovers on Tuesday and Fordham recorded 16. The Ram's miscues were especially damaging, with 10 coming in the first half and helping the Irish take a 12-point lead into halftime.

Fordham’s freshman guards Anna DeWolfe and Sarah Karpell impressed: Neither committed a single turnover in the first half. Both showed a good deal of poise in their first collegiate game, against a marquee program, no less.

It was a tale of two halves for Kendell Heremaia, though. The Fordham junior guard was guilty of five first-half turnovers. After intermission, she turned the ball over just once while knocking down four 3-pointers. Heremaia tied Bre Cavanaugh for team scoring honors and she was instrumental in Fordham making their second-half run.

Gaitley lamented the Rams' poor second period that ultimately spelled their doom. "If we'd just played better offensively in that second period it could have been a different outcome," she said. In those 10 second-quarter minutes, the Rams did not hit a field goal until the 3:33-minute mark.

Notre Dame is young, having lost their starting five from last year’s NCAAW Tournament runner-up team. "We have a lot of inexperienced players," McGraw said following the victory. "Our veterans have to do their part to help the newcomers along."

Short on experience, the new-look Notre Dame is high on talent. Mikayla Vaughn scored eight points and grabbed nine boards in 20 minutes, but the junior center left the game in the third period with an injury. As of postgame media availability, the severity of the injury was still not known.

Sam Brunelle paced the Irish with 14 points and also grabbed five rebounds. The 6-foot-2 freshman forward is a name to remember for the future. Another frosh, guard Anaya Peoples, added 13 points and came up with two big rebounds off missed Irish free throws in the final minute. Sophomore guard Katlyn Gilbert added 12 points and rebounds.

"I am really proud of the way this group battled," McGraw said. "I see them as having a lot of promise."

So far, so good: Notre Dame defeated Fordham 60-55.

A great night. A game that thrilled women’s basketball fans when it was announced. A game that did not disappoint.

A powerhouse program visits a mid-major?

In men’s college basketball, it is rare that a top-tier team will visit the gym of a mid-major. In the women’s game, it’s more apt to happen even if infrequently. So, how did this game come about?

"We have (sophomore forward) Danielle Cosgrove who is from (Holbrook) New York," McGraw said. "We like to get a ‘homecoming’ game for our players. We also recruit a lot in New Jersey so it is a good idea to play here in this area and maintain a presence."

During the Big East days, the Irish visited Seton Hall, St. John’s and Rutgers. Now a member of the ACC, the only Notre Dame sojourns to the New York metropolitan area are through non-conference games.

Gaitley, meanwhile, saw this game as an attractive meeting for the fans and her Rams team. It also helps the non-league resume.

"My goal each year is to get to the NCAA Tournament," Gaitley said. "If we can’t win the (Atlantic 10) league we want to go as an at-large. A good non-conference schedule ... gets your team ready for conference play."