Women’s Basketball: Explosive third quarter leads No. 23 Northwestern over Penn State


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Veronica Burton moves the ball up the court. The sophomore finished with 19 points in NU’s win over Penn State on Sunday.

Ella Brockway, Sports Editor

Women’s Basketball

No. 23 Northwestern went into halftime of Sunday’s game at Penn State in a position it has faced only four times this season: down.

The Wildcats trailed the Nittany Lions by one at the break, after struggling from the floor — shooting 15-for-30 from field goal range and just 2-for-6 from deep — and on the defensive end in the first half.

So as NU entered the locker room, coach Joe McKeown turned the floor over to his captains — senior forward Abi Scheid, junior guard Lindsey Pulliam and sophomore guard Veronica Burton — and they made sure the second-half message was clear.

“(I said) come out the second half and just play, play Northwestern basketball,” McKeown said. “There was no panic, nobody was yelling and screaming. It was more, ‘Settle down, just play,’ and I thought they handled that well, the three captains.”

The Cats did exactly that: They answered with a 29-7 third quarter, hitting all five of their threes and giving one of their best single-quarter efforts of the season. That 10-minute performance powered NU (19-3, 9-2 Big Ten) to a 82-59 win over Penn State (7-15, 1-10), its first in State College since 1997.

Burton and Pulliam led the Cats with 19 points each. Senior center Abbie Wolf rounded out the leading scorers with 15 points, marking the third time this year that at least three players have closed a game with 15 or more points.

“It was a tale of two halves, really,” McKeown said. “We expected a dog fight coming into Penn State. They’ve been playing well they just haven’t gotten over the hump.”

The Cats, just three days off an eight-point home win over Michigan, hopped out to an early 8-4 lead on Sunday morning — the 11 a.m. start was their earliest tip-off time since Dec. 16. But an atypical five early turnovers put the ball back in Penn State’s hands in transition and helped the Nittany Lions kick off a 15-3 run in the first quarter.

The teams traded scores in the second quarter, but as Penn State found its rhythm from behind the arc, shooting 3-for-4 from deep, NU could not land its own. Scheid had more turnovers (2) than shot attempts (1) in the entire first half — uncharacteristic for the Minnesota native, who currently holds a 50.9 percentage from deep and is the nation’s top 3-point shooter.

That changed as soon as the third quarter began: Just 29 seconds in, Scheid scored NU’s first bucket of the second half to give the Cats back the lead. It was only the beginning of NU’s remarkable third quarter — two minutes later, sophomore Sydney Wood hit a layup that would kick off the Cats’ 17-0 run.

“We came out, had a great third quarter and just did the things that got the game open,” McKeown said. “We started making shots, getting better shots, rebounding (and) started to defend them in transition.

Scheid nailed all three of her attempts from deep in the third, and finished the game with an additional six rebounds, four assists and three steals.

“I’m just really proud of her,” McKeown said. “She’s not forcing anything, and our players are doing a good job getting her shots. We’re going to have to be creative the second half of the Big Ten (schedule) to try to get her the ball in different spots.”

In a mere four minutes and 27 seconds, NU had turned a tie game into a nearly 20-point lead.

The Cats entered the final frame with a 21-point lead and didn’t lose it in the fourth. After missing the first two months of the 2019-20 campaign with an injury, sophomore guard Jess Sancataldo hit two free throws to secure her first points of the season and her team’s final points of the game.

The win — and a little bit of help from Michigan, who beat No. 18 Iowa by 15 in Ann Arbor on Saturday afternoon — pushed NU back into a tie with the Hawkeyes for first place atop the Big Ten standings.

The Cats will have a week to rest before they face Michigan State (11-10, 4-6) at home on Feb. 10.

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