In Wildcats’ victory, team effort was key

Jonah L. Rosenblum and Jonah L. Rosenblum

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Thursday’s match-up between Northwestern and No. 24 Ohio State was supposed to come down to a showdown between two of the nation’s best interior players: Amy Jaeschke of the Wildcats and Jantel Lavender of the Buckeyes. Apparently someone forgot to mention that to the other NU players, who helped lead the Cats to a 64-53 victory.

“The defense doesn’t know who’s going to score next or who is the next go-to player,” Jaeschke said. “The fact that multiple players were able to step up tonight was really huge and the key to beating Ohio State.”

It’s not that Jaeschke wasn’t good; the senior posted her ninth double-double of the season, finishing with a team-leading 15 points and 12 rebounds. But unlike in past games when Jaeschke had to carry NU, she received plenty of help from her teammates Thursday night.

NU’s depth was particularly important in the first half when Jaeschke struggled against Lavender, recording just six points. Thankfully for the Cats, her teammates were able to step in her place.

“That’s the whole thing about being on a team,” Jaeschke said. “It’s not just one-on-one, it’s five-on-five. I give all the credit to my team for everybody stepping up tonight and getting this win.”

Jaeschke’s scoring picked up in the second half and her teammates joined the party. Sophomore forward Kendall Hackney hit what coach Joe McKeown described as “an NBA three” and junior forward Brittany Orban finished with 13 points despite attempting only three field goals.

“For us, we have to do everything as a team,” McKeown said. “Individually, we’re not going to step out and outrun or outjump everybody for the most part, so collectively, we have to outwork teams.”

Ohio State, on the other hand, was unable to produce any similar offensive balance. Lavender and guard Samantha Prahalis combined to score 38 of the Buckeyes’ 53 points. No other player scored more than six.

NU gave a cohesive effort on the defensive end, as well. The Cats held the Buckeyes to just 53 points and 31.5 percent shooting from the field. Of particular note, the Cats were able to subdue Lavender, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, until the last several minutes of the second half.

“She didn’t have a lot of space to make moves or anything,” Jaeschke said. “As a post player, that’s really frustrating. It was a really good defensive effort by the entire team to try and stop Jantel.”

The Cats also got plenty of help from their reserves, dominating the Buckeyes in bench points, 18-2. Junior guard Allison Mocchi scored half of NU’s 18 points, providing a critical burst of energy in the first half. When she first got on the score sheet with an assist, NU was down 13-9. She followed with four rebounds in the next two and a half minutes, and then hit a three-pointer to tie the score at 14. A subsequent layup gave the Cats a 16-14 lead.

“Both teams were struggling in the first half and Ali Mocchi gave us a huge shot in the arm,” McKeown said. “She’s capable of that. She practices that way, and she’s a really good basketball player.”

Senior guard Meshia Reed also put in valuable minutes, with seven points and three rebounds in just 13 minutes of play.

After scoring only 23 points in the first half, the Cats put up 41 in the final frame. Balance, once again, was key.

“They aren’t able to step off anyone on our team,” Orban said.