Women’s Basketball: Cats fade in clutch, fall to Buckeyes, 82-72

Kevin Trahan

Despite getting a career-high 23 points from junior forward Dannielle Diamant and double figures from three others, Northwestern (11-6, 1-3 Big Ten) faltered down the stretch in an 82-72 loss at No. 11 Ohio State (16-1, 3-1).

Though disappointed with the loss, the Wildcats said they were pleased with their play, particularly their ability to respond to their opponent’s run on the road.

“I was (happy with the performance),” coach Joe McKeown said. “I felt like we battled. We got down and came back. They just made a couple more plays in the last two minutes.”

Diamant was nearly able to spark her team to the upset, coming off a solid game in a road win at Indiana. She continues to heal from an ankle injury that sidelined her on Dec. 30 against Toledo, but is starting to return to her early-season form.

“I did feel more comfortable,” she said. “My ankle is consistently getting better and everything. I have to perform for us to stay in the game and hopefully win. Obviously there’s more I could have done defensively, but overall I’d say I played pretty decently.”

McKeown said he was impressed with Diamant’s performance and the leadership she has shown on the court.

“Having her makes a huge difference,” he said. “She has a certain presence on the floor. It’s just good to have her back. She’s done a very good job of playing focused and ready to play, especially against Indiana and again tonight.”

Diamant’s performance was complemented by the play of junior forward Kendall Hackney and freshman guard Morgan Jones, who had 15 and 11 points, respectively. Junior guard Tailor Jones added 10 points off the bench.

However, defense proved to be the problem for the Cats, despite McKeown’s continual emphasis on that aspect. He also gave credit to the Buckeyes for hitting big shots in their 82-point performance, the third-highest scoring total NU has given up all season. Both defensive lapses by NU and hot shooting from Ohio State contributed to the offensive outburst, McKeown said.

“It was a little bit of both,” he said. “We broke down, but they’re good players, too; they’re going to make you pay. We have to make more plays.”

Hackney said ultimately, Ohio State was able to pull away due to clutch shots near the end of the game.

“We had letdowns at times,” she said. “They were able to pull away and make more shots at times.”

NU’s defensive philosophy this year has been to try to shut down two of its opponents’ top shooters. That plan fell through Thursday, as guard Tayler Hill had 24 points for the Buckeyes and guard Samantha Prahalis added 20.

“Defense has been a problem all year, stopping two players,” Diamant said. “It fell through again tonight.”

McKeown said his team still needs work on zeroing in on the top two scorers.

“Just being able to play to our strengths and shut down their best players is going to be a big key in any Big Ten game,” he said. “That’s our Achilles right now. We have to find a way to be better at that. We’ll focus on that the next couple of days and get ready for Illinois.”

The Fighting Illini visit Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday, as the Cats try to pick up their second Big Ten win and their first at home. Despite the loss, NU was able to build confidence heading into that game.

“We’ve just been kind of building and building on what we’ve been learning and doing in practice,” Hackney said. “It was definitely a great game.”

However, Hackney said she and her team still have a lot to learn from Thursday’s performance and she looks forward to getting back on the right track in the Big Ten.

“We’re looking forward to finishing off the Big Ten strong; we have a lot of big games left,” she said. “We’re definitely not satisfied.”

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