Courtney Morrison/The Daily Northwestern
Seeking a marquee road win against a ranked team, Northwestern wilted on Sunday.
The No. 16 Wildcats (12-4, 1-3 Big Ten) had no answer for Michigan State’s scoring trio of Branndais Agee, Tori Jankoska and Aerial Powers in the No. 23 Spartans (12-3, 3-1) 74-51 win in East Lansing.
“We just didn’t do a very good job on team defense,” coach Joe McKeown said on WNUR Sports.
Northwestern’s performance was poor from the outset. The Cats never led and did not score until more than three minutes in, and trailed by 10 with 4:13 to play in the first.
By halftime, Michigan State led by 18 and, although NU opened the second half with an 8-0 run, the hosts extended their lead to 25 at the end of the third quarter.
“They came out of the gates in the second half and did a really good job of getting some momentum,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. “Our kids really responded and that shows a little bit of the veteran group that we have out there.”
The Cats had a similar run in the first half, cutting an early 10-point deficit to one with a 9-0 run late in the first quarter. Just as quickly as NU reduced the lead, however, the Spartans scored 10 straight of their own to extend their lead to 26-15.
NU’s shooting was abysmal. The Cats shot 27.3 percent from the field and just 11.5 percent from 3-point range. NU also shot just 12-of-19 from the free throw line, a 63.2 percent rate. In contrast, Michigan State was 46.9 percent from the field before halftime.
“We just had a tough night,” McKeown told WNUR.
Agee, Jankoska, and Powers combined for 48 points for the Spartans. NU’s three leading scorers — junior forward Nia Coffey, junior guard Christen Inman and senior guard Maggie Lyon — scored just 35.
The Cats’ scoring was again unbalanced, as NU’s ‘big four’ of Coffey, Inman, Lyon and junior guard Ashley Deary scored the Cats’ first 44 points.
Freshman forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, who made her first career start Sunday, did not make a significant impact. She recorded seven rebounds but failed to score as NU was outrebounded 50-40.
Sunday’s game was the Cats’ second straight loss and third in four Big Ten games. After a 10-0 start, NU finds itself near the bottom of the league standings ahead of consecutive games against top 10 teams. The Cats host No. 5 Ohio State on Thursday before traveling to No. 8 Maryland next Sunday.
McKeown believes that NU needs to shore up its defensive effort to have success against elite opponents.
“That’s something we’ve got to focus on as we get ready for Ohio State,” he said of team defense. “That’s really the most important thing.”
This post was updated at 6:05 p.m. with postgame quotes.
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