SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame couldn't do much against Michigan State's Aisha Jefferson defensively, so Kellie Watson got the Fighting Irish (No. 10 ESPN/USA Today, No. 14 AP) going offensively.
Watson made five consecutive 3-pointers in the first half and finished with six from long range, igniting a sluggish Notre Dame offense in a 78-72 victory on Saturday. The freshman attempted six 3-pointers in the Irish's first four games of the season.
"Kellie Watson was absolutely fantastic. She had an unbelievable night," Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said.
Watson, who had 18 points, helped the Irish overcome a 34-point effort by Jefferson, who scored 22 in the first half. That surpassed her previous career best of 20 points set three years ago against Iowa. She also had 11 boards as the Spartans outrebounded the Irish 48-32.
Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said Jefferson was determined after scoring just five points in the previous game against Old Dominion.
"Today was just my day," Jefferson said.
The Irish (5-0) are off to their best start since opening the 2005-06 season with six straight wins. The Spartans (6-1) fell a win shy of matching their best start in school history, but Merchant was pleased they battled back and made a game of it.
"We had a shot to win it at the end," she said.
Watson, who is from Ionia, Mich., and strongly considered going to Michigan State, said it was a surreal feeling when the shots started falling.
"The first two, I was just glad my shots were finally falling," she said, laughing. "They kept giving me the ball and I took open shots. It's not something I'm going to complain about."
Merchant said the shots by Watson hurt.
"One and two were big. The rest were bigger," she said.
The last two of Watson's consecutive 3-pointers were part of a 13-6 run that gave the Irish a 39-34 halftime lead. The Irish then opened the second half with a 7-0 run, highlighted by a three-point play by Ashley Barlow, who finished with 14 points and six assists. They went ahead 46-34 on a 15-foot jumper by Lindsay Schrader, who scored 10 of her 15 points in the second half.
The Irish stretched the lead to 55-40 when Barlow hit three of four free throws after Merchant and forward Kalisha Keane were called for technical fouls 7 seconds apart with 13 minutes left. The Spartans played better after the technicals and closed to 75-72 on a layup by Keane with 27 seconds left but couldn't get any closer.
The Irish held Michigan State's 6-foot-9 center Allyssa DeHaan to 2-of-10 shooting. The only player in double figures for the Spartans was Keane, with 10.
"You're not going to win in this environment with just a player and a half," Merchant said.
The Irish forced 24 turnovers and blocked six shots. McGraw said her focus in practice this week will be rebounding.
"I thought it was just short of embarrassing the way we worked at the boards," McGraw said. "I was really disappointed with our effort on the boards."