Rutgers pulls away in second half for fifth straight win

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Rutgers' Matee Ajavon is getting healthy at just the right time.

Ajavon, who has been recovering all season from a leg stress fracture, posted her second straight season high with 26 points, scoring 15 points in a row for her team in the second half to lead the Scarlet Knights to a 76-60 victory Saturday over Notre Dame.

Ajavon finished 8-of-13 from the field, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range. On Tuesday, she had 23 points against Providence.

"We couldn't stop her," Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. "We probably should have double-teamed her."

Essence Carson added 17 points for Rutgers (19-7, 12-3 Big East), which won its fifth in a row to remain in second place and clinched a bye in the first round of the Big East tournament.

Ajavon, who had a rod put in her leg in September, said she's feeling healthy heading into the tournament.

"I think my condition is finally starting to kick in," she said. "I feel good."

Last year, Ajavon scored 28 points against the Irish in leading Rutgers to a 69-43 win. She couldn't put her finger on why she plays better against Notre Dame.

"I just took what was there, basically," she said.

She started her scoring streak midway in the second half with a steal and an easy fastbreak layup. After making 2-of-3 free throws, she had another fastbreak layup off a steal and another fastbreak basket before making another pair of free throws.

After a mid-range jumper, she capped the run with a 3-pointer to give Rutgers a 65-53 lead.

McGraw said what makes Ajavon so tough is her versatility.

"She can shoot and drive," McGraw said. "Most players are either 3-point shooters or they like to put the ball on the floor. She can do both, and she's got great, great quickness. She was a tough matchup."

The loss ended a six-game winning streak for the Irish (19-9, 10-5), who dropped their second home game of the season. The Irish struggled with Rutgers' tight defense.

"I think they're the best defensive team we've seen," McGraw said. "They're active. They're athletic. We couldn't get by anybody."

Rutgers was 4-of-5 from 3-point range in the second half after going 3-of-8 in the first half. The Scarlet Knights also scored 21 points off 16 turnovers by the Irish.

Kia Vaughn added 13 points and 10 rebounds for Rutgers and Epiphanny Prince had 10 points.

Notre Dame, which had four double-figure scorers in its last five games, had just two Saturday. Charel Allen had 20 points on 7-of-18 shooting and Tulyah Gaines had 10 points.