By Greg Mroz
Hoffman Estates, Ill – As has been their trademark in many games this season, Northwestern got down early and trailed by ten going into halftime. Yet as they have throughout the whole year, the Wildcats found a way to win by dominating the second half.
Five different Wildcats scored in double figures as 4th seeded Northwestern started the 2nd half on a 21-4 run to win their quarterfinal matchup with 5th seeded Rutgers 62-57 at the Sears Centre. Ashley Deary, who did not attempt a shot in the first half, went 5-7 in the 2nd half with 12 points to go along with 4 steals.
“Great second half by us, really proud of our team the way they responded at half time.” Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown said. “Once we took the lead, I thought we played with a lot of poise”
Out of the break, the Wildcats came out of the gate hot, starting with a 7-0 run that prompted Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer to call a time out just over a minute and a half into the second period. Northwestern turned it into an 11-2 run to make it 39-38 Rutgers. From there the run grew even more, as sophomore Ashley Deary stepped it up with three weaving layups that gave Northwestern a 44-39 lead. The Wildcats continued to push, with the run growing to 21-4 and the lead to 48-41 with 12 minutes left. After that, Northwestern just continued to dominate.
“What we were focusing on going into the second half was our defensive pressure and we knew shots would fall.” Northwestern junior guard Maggie Lyon said. Lyon lead all Northwestern scorers with 15 points on 4-12 shooting.
The Scarlet Knights made a late charge to get it to 61-54, but on a breakaway Ariel Butts was called for a charge with 35 seconds left, giving Northwestern the ball and icing the game for Northwestern.
“We know what we’re capable of when we play together” Sophomore forward Nia Coffey said. “We have to make sure to maintain that mental stability and we’ll be successful.”
Foul trouble proved to be costly for Rutgers all day long, as the Scarlet Knights had three different players with 3 or more fouls at the end of the first half. By the game’s conclusion, Rutgers had committed 26 total fouls, with four players receiving four fouls or more. Kahleah Coppper lead the Scarlet Knights with 14 points, although 12 of them came in the first half.
“I liked the way we played defense” Rutgers head coach C. Vivian Stringer stated. “With the foul situation as it was, it was difficult to sustain.”
Northwestern’s next challenge will come tomorrow against the 1st seeded Maryland Terrapins, the team they lost to 69-48 on Sunday. That game does not matter now, because for the Wildcats, the Big Ten Tournament represents a brand new opportunity.
“I think we are going to come out a whole different team.” Sophomore guard Ashley Deary said. “We want to win the Big Ten championship and that’s our goal. There’s not going to be a team that’s going to stop us from doing that. ”
“Whether you win by one or 10, you just want to move on” McKeown added later.
With the way they are playing, the goal of winning the Big Ten Tournament title is well within reach. If you can find a way to come back being down ten to one of the best defensive teams in the country, anything is possible.