Women’s Basketball: Northwestern’s comeback falls short against Rutgers

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Women’s Basketball: Northwestern’s comeback falls short against Rutgers

Lindsey Pulliam holds the ball in triple-threat position. The sophomore guard had a game-high 16 points.

Lindsey Pulliam holds the ball in triple-threat position. The sophomore guard had a game-high 16 points.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Lindsey Pulliam holds the ball in triple-threat position. The sophomore guard had a game-high 16 points.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Lindsey Pulliam holds the ball in triple-threat position. The sophomore guard had a game-high 16 points.

Peter Warren, Web Editor

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Women’s Basketball


PISCATAWAY, N.J. — As sophomore guard Jordan Hamilton’s layup went through the basket to give Northwestern a one-point lead with a little over a minute to go, it looked like the Wildcats had finally made a breakthrough to swing the advantage away from Rutgers.

And as the Wildcats forced a turnover on the next possession, it appeared the momentum shift was complete. But in a game defined by defense — both teams shot 27 percent from the floor — it was a fantastic defensive play that swung the game back in the Scarlet Knights’ direction for good.

After inbounding the ball against a full-court press, sophomore guard Lindsey Pulliam received the ball back just above the baseline and began to dribble up court. She was stripped at the foul line by Victoria Harris and proceeded to foul the senior in the act of shooting.

Harris hit both free throws and Rutgers (8-3, 1-0 Big Ten) hit three more in the final minute as NU (7-5, 0-1) could not regain the lead as the Scarlet Knights won both teams’ Big Ten opener 45-41 at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

“We knew it was going to be a defensive battle, both ends,” coach Joe McKeown said. “They made one more play than we did basically.”

While Pulliam’s turnover led to Rutgers taking the lead and securing the victory, NU was only in that position due to the Maryland native’s hot streak during the third quarter and beginning of the fourth quarter.

With 6:20 remaining in the third quarter, the Scarlet Knights held their largest lead of the game at 34-18. The Cats were shooting just 18 percent from the field and had yet to score in the period. Then Pulliam took over.

“She made hard cuts, she was hard to guard, she wanted the basketball, wanted to score. And that’s who she is,” McKeown said. “I think tonight showed why she’s one of the best players in the Big Ten.”

NU went on a 15-0 run to end the third and begin the fourth with Pulliam being the engine of the rally. She scored 14 of the 15 points and showcased her versatility scoring the basketball, hitting shots from short-, mid- and long-range.

Coupled with a defense stand that stifled the Scarlet Knights for over 10 minutes, the Cats cut the led to 34-33. The teams then traded baskets before Hamilton’s layup with 1:20 remaining put NU ahead for the first time since the first quarter.

The fact that Friday’s game was a defensive slugfest is not surprising.

Led by legendary coach C. Vivian Stringer, the Scarlet Knights have one of the stingiest defenses in the college basketball. Entering Friday’s Big Ten opener at the RAC, Rutgers held opponents to the fifth-lowest points per game and sixth-lowest field goal percentage in the country.

“They are quick, they get to the ball, they are athletic,” McKeown said. “Their post players are physical on the block, really aggressive — really aggressive. It’s something we didn’t handle as well as we will as we go through the Big Ten.”

The Cats had four turnovers in the first two minutes of the game and finished the contest with 19. Other than a two-possession stretch when Kunaiyi-Akpanah snagged an offensive rebound and finished and Pulliam nailed a patented mid-range jump shot, NU was unable to hit a shot from the field in the first quarter. But Rutgers was not much better, shooting 31 percent over the opening ten minutes.

The woes continued into the second quarter. For five minutes of action, only two shots swished through the net as the two teams just could not find the bottom of the net.

But the Scarlet Knights fell out of their funk with about four minutes remaining. A three-ball from Sierra Calhoun sparked a 13-5 rally for Rutgers as they went 3-for-3 on its 3-point attempts to head into the break up 29-18.

The win was a monumental one for Stringer. After winning her 1000th game a few weeks ago, Friday’s victory was her 200th in Big Ten play as she became the first women’s coach in conference history to achieve that mark.

“Tough game, hard-nosed game — what you expect when you play here,” McKeown said. “Coach Stringer, we’ve been battling each other forever. I think you walk away from here knowing we can go on the road and compete, but we’ve got to finish.”

Email: peterwarren2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @thepeterwarren

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