MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. – Skylar Diggins may not have had the most points, but Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw knows why the Fighting Irish came out on top at the Carrier Classic.
Natalie Achonwa had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead No. 7 Notre Dame to a 57-51 victory over No. 19 Ohio State aboard the USS Yorktown outside of Charleston on Friday night.
Diggins, though, got the Irish off to a quick start in the second half, funneling the ball to Achonwa and Kayla McBride to build a 35-25 lead over the first four minutes of the period that Notre Dame would not give up.
"She's the one who directs us, manages the game, gets us in the offense," McGraw said. "She did a little bit of everything tonight."
McBride finished with 16 points and Diggins 11 as the Fighting Irish moved to 23-3 in season openers under McGraw.
Diggins, a senior, knows this is just the first step on a journey she hopes can end with a national title. The Fighting Irish were runners-up last season, losing to Baylor in the championship game. Moments after this one ended, Diggins talked about pressing forward at practice and in the film room.
"For a lot of us, this is our first experience playing a great Ohio State team," she said. "We've got to continue to get better every day."
The first women's game on an aircraft carrier wasn't easy for either team. The Yorktown was bathed in bright sunshine at the start, leaving players on both teams squinting. Once the sun set on Charleston Harbor, the converted flight deck turned downright chilly.
"I'm looking forward to getting back to playing indoors," Ohio State coach Jim Foster said with a smile.
Tayler Hill scored 15 of her 18 points in the second half for the Buckeyes.
Achonwa scored from the inside to put the Fighting Irish ahead 35-25, but Ohio State chipped away behind Hill's play. Her driving basket cut Notre Dame's lead to 47-43 with 4:52 to go and moments later teammate Amber Stokes stole a mid-court pass and took it in for an uncontested layup.
But Achonwa followed with a jumper to again extend the lead.
Hill, who led the Big Ten in scoring last season at 20.4 points a game, hit two foul shots with 2:30 to go that brought Ohio State as close as it would come after that, 50-47.
McBride answered for Notre Dame, extending her left arm amid several defenders for a basket. Achonwa made both ends of a one-and-one and the Fighting Irish had locked things up.
Diggins was 2 of 10 from the field but went 7 of 8 at the foul line.
Stokes added 10 points for Ohio State, which had won 17 straight season openers before this one. Ashley Adams finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State's Foster and McGraw both eagerly accepted the opportunity to open the season on the carrier, which served in World War II, Vietnam and recovered the astronauts of Apollo 8 in 1968 before she was decommissioned in 1970.
Both teams paid tribute to the military in their uniforms, the Buckeyes wearing a camouflage design while the Fighting Irish had camo accents down the sides with a red-white-and-blue USA on the back where their names are.
"This to all the women's troops," McGraw said. "There are a lot of women out there" in the military.
Diggins was honored to take part.
"It was great to play this game for something bigger than us," she said.
While the setting was extraordinary, the early basketball was not.
Hill missed her first five shots and was 1 of 8 in the opening half. Then again, the Buckeyes played the first 20 minutes with the bright sun in their eyes.
Notre Dame, which played into the basket in front of the carrier's massive command tower, struggled to find the basket, too, going 10 of 31 in the first half. Diggins and McBride were both off target, leading to a combined 5-for-16 performance in the period.
Still, Diggins kept shooting and her driving basket with 2:58 left put Notre Dame up 23-20. The Irish extended the lead to five points on Markisha Wright's inside shot.
Adams cut things to 25-22 at the break for Ohio State.