Freshman forward Nia Coffey dropped to the court and pounded her fist. Five seconds just wasn’t enough time.
Northwestern (14-9, 4-6 Big Ten) was tied with Michigan (15-8, 6-4) with nine seconds left in the game Thursday night when sophomore guard Maggie Lyon was called for a foul. Michigan’s Siera Thompson hit her free throws and had the Wolverines up 2 with five seconds left for the Wildcats to come back.
Freshman guard Ashley Deary couldn’t drive through Michigan’s defenders to make her layup, and NU lost its second home game in a row, 70-68.
Thursday night was the fourth time the Cats ended a close game. NU split its three previous contests with wins against Nebraska, by 4 points, and Indiana, by 6 points, and most recently a 4-point loss against Penn State.
Coach Joe McKeown said games’ last minutes are important for his team, which could be poised to make it into the NCAA tournament.
“The biggest thing we talked about was finishing games,” McKeown said. “Every game in the league is so competitive, so you have to be able to execute at the end… that’s going to be our focal point over the next two weeks as we, I think, make a run. We can play with anybody, we just have to do a better job finishing games.”
The Cats’ disappointing loss stung even more after a second half comeback that included a near-flawless 19-9 run.
Nearly everything turned around for NU coming out of the locker room, when the team trailed by 7. Freshman guard Christen Inman sparked the Cats’ run with a free throw followed by a jumper, and NU was on a roll.
The Cats pulled off five steals compared to just one in the first half and got their ball handling under control — NU started the game looking frazzled and played with what McKeown called hesitance — to decrease turnovers from 10 to six.
Things also looked better under the basket as the Cats pulled 16 rebounds in the second half, compared to their measly nine in the first.
Lyon led the team with 16 points and five total rebounds, four of which were defensive.
“I think defensively we felt like we were doing a better job,” Lyon said. “I felt like we were getting more rebounds and moving the ball more offensively… just trying to get transition points.”
But NU’s defense picked up too late, and even in the second half allowed Michigan’s Thompson, who sits first in the Big Ten for 3-point field goal percentage, to rack up five 3-pointers and end the game with a team-leading 25 points.
With freshman guard and team leader in points per game Nia Coffey clocking only 16 minutes after sitting out for the last two games with an injury, classmates Inman and Deary pulled their weight with 14 and 10 points respectively.
But for the second game in a row it was bright spots from veteran leaders that kept the Cats alive at times.
Senior guard Meghan McKeown sparked life into NU during the first half with two critical 3-pointers. Juniors Alex Cohen and Karly Roser also provided much-needed defensive muscle during the first half.
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