Women’s Basketball: Northwestern defeats Penn State 78-72 with gritty comeback, earns second straight win on the road


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior forward Courtney Shaw battles for a rebound against Iowa. Shaw led the team with 10 rebounds Sunday against Penn State.

Skye Swann, Newsletter Editor

After a successful road win against Purdue on Friday, Northwestern traveled to State College, Pa. looking for retribution. With Penn State defeating the squad at Welsh-Ryan Arena in January, the squad aimed to return the favor Sunday. 

The Wildcats (13-8, 5-5 Big Ten) put away the Nittany Lions (9-13, 3-9 Big Ten) 78-72, earning back-to-back wins on the road. Senior guard Veronica Burton led the team in scoring with 22 points and four steals while senior forward Courtney Shaw pulled down 10 rebounds.

“The (victory) really helped,” coach Joe McKeown said. “We played extremely well at Purdue and today, we struggled early but came back to close the game out.”

Following the squad’s victory, NU split the series with Penn State 1-1, avoiding a conference opponent sweep deep into the 2021-22 campaign. However, the first few minutes of the contest posed an uphill battle for the group. 

At the start of the first quarter, the Cats struggled to control the Nittany Lions’ quick speed on the court. Even though NU held a brief advantage, Penn State seized the lead and placed its foot on the gas pedal. With five minutes left in the period, the Cats were down nearly 10 points and appeared flustered on the offense. 

McKeown felt the timeout before the second quarter changed the team’s momentum and it did: NU climbed back, grabbing control of the game and finding its rhythm on the offensive end of the floor. Junior guard Laya Hartman, freshman guard Melannie Daley and freshman forward Caileigh Walsh were critical players during these 10 minutes, making shots from beyond the arc and layups to put the Cats within two points at halftime.

“Defensively we really locked down on their players,” McKeown said. “That was a big key with decision making and defense.”

In the second quarter, NU’s transformation ultimately saved the squad from earning another loss. The Cats’ ability to work collectively and force 16 Nittany Lions turnovers contributed to their offensive dominance inside the paint and from the three-point line.

Burton and Hartman came alive in the third quarter, hitting layups and pull-up jumpers as NU took back the lead for the first time since the first five minutes of regulation. However, things appeared rocky for the Cats when Burton went to the sidelines with an ankle injury, allowing Penn State to creep back into the matchup. 

Within a few minutes, Burton came back into the game and hit the floor without missing a beat. Grabbing a free throw after a Nittany Lion foul, Burton’s energy on the floor kicked NU into high gear. 

Slowly fighting back into the fourth quarter, NU regained the momentum in the contest with only five minutes remaining in regulation. The Cats’ last minutes were devoted to preventing Penn State from sending the game into overtime. Fortunately, the squad fended off the Nittany Lions until the game clock buzzer sounded.

Concluding a four-day road tour across the Big Ten, McKeown said the group is looking forward to heading back to Evanston to play Minnesota. With only a handful of games left in the regular season, he said the team seeks to continue their growth and is ready for the challenge.

“Everybody is stepping up and contributing (to the team),” McKeown said. “It’s really exciting that we can play a lot of different people and they are able to play together.”

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