Women’s Basketball: Freshmen key to Wildcats’ weekend sweep

Alex Putterman, Reporter

Freshmen are supposed to be seen and not heard, more cheerleaders than scoring leaders, watching with wide eyes as upperclassmen show them what college basketball looks like. Apparently, the Wildcats’ rookies missed that memo.

Northwestern (2-0) began its season as well as it could have hoped, sweeping two weekend home games with a pair of 10-point victories. After handling Tennessee-Martin (0-1) 79-69 on Friday, the Cats topped Central Michigan (1-1) 82-72. The games followed similar trajectories with quick starts, inconsistent middles and freshmen-dominated endings.

NU opened with a 9-3 lead Friday to start its showdown with the reigning Ohio Valley Conference champion Skyhawks and led 37-28 at halftime, with senior forward Kendall Hackney pacing the team with 14 points. But UT-Martin dominated the first five minutes of the second half, and when Shelby Crawford hit an open three-pointer with 14:50 remaining, the Skyhawks led for the first time, 44-42.

Eventually, however, it was the Cats’ youngsters who sealed an opening day win. Freshman Lauren Douglas scored 6 of her 7 points in the second half, and sophomore Karly Roser scored all 9 of hers after the break, also tallying seven rebounds and 11 assists on the day. But among a cast of impressive underclassmen, freshman Maggie Lyon made the best first impression. The forward led NU with 21 points, drawing praise from her coach.

“She plays so hard — when you compete like that, basketball is basketball, so I think that helped her tonight,” coach Joe McKeown said. “I felt like defensively in the second half she played really well. Her offense is going to be there. She has the ability to score the basketball, but she’s starting to play both ends of the floor.”

Hackney, who herself put up a praise-worthy line, with 20 points and eight rebounds, was similarly effusive about the play of NU’s youngsters.

“Coming out from the get-go they were phenomenal,” she said. “I know what it’s like. Coming in a freshman is a little crazy, and they have adjusted way better than I did.”

Though Lyon wasn’t quite as productive Sunday against the Chippewas, she did contribute 13 points and seven rebounds as well as one of the game’s most exciting and pivotal plays.

After Roser banked in a contested layup with three seconds left in the first half, Central Michigan’s inbound-passer tossed a hesitant lob to a distracted teammate along the baseline. Lyon stepped in front of the pass and unleashed a three-pointer from just behind the line that needed no help from the rim on its trip through the net. The basket was Lyon’s first of the game and capped a 7-0 run that gave NU a 33-24 lead heading into halftime.

“That was huge,” McKeown said of the buzzer-beater. “It just gave us some momentum, more than anything else.”

The Cats got a scare in the second half, as a lead that hovered near double digits for much of the period dwindled to two with 5:27 to play. The Chippewas charge was fueled by speedy guard Jessica Green, who led the team with 25 points and six steals and often proved too quick on defense for NU’s ball-handlers and on offense for NU’s defenders.

But again the Cats’ freshmen stepped up when the outcome was in doubt. Douglas finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, including 8 points in the final four minutes, and Lyon added 10 in the second half. Again, McKeown was impressed with the play of his two youngest starters.

“Second half I thought they both played really well, found another gear,” he said. “They just have some poise, and they’re very competitive.”

Douglas and Lyon, who seem destined to be united in reference as “the freshmen starters,” traded off leading-scorer duties in the first two games. Individual stats aside, most of the NU squad would presumably agree with Douglas’ evaluation of the team’s expectations going forward.

“Winning games,” she said. “That’s it.”