by Callie Counsellor (@CCounsellor)
It was unfamiliar territory. Down by 10. Fourteen minutes to go. On the road. Against an ACC opponent.
“That kind of hit me and I was like ‘this is what college basketball is about.’”
It was just the sixth game of Maggie Lyon’s collegiate career. Up until that point, Northwestern was 5-0 and had never trailed by double-digits. It would also turn out to be her first collegiate comeback.
The Wildcats won that game against Boston College, 67-63, thanks in large part to Lyon’s 16 points. NU fans were getting a taste of the talent this hometown girl had to offer.
Her story began not far from NU’s Evanston campus, in Wilmette, IL. Basketball was in her blood, the daughter of a former Carson Newman College women’s basketball player. She showed promise as early as elementary school, which did not go unnoticed by Teri Rodgers, the girls’ basketball coach at New Trier Township High School.
“When I saw her in fifth grade, I always knew that this was kid that was going to be able to play beyond high school,” Rodgers said. “From her work ethic to definitely her ability, but I was probably more impressed with her work ethic and her knowledge of the game.”
Lyon made the varsity team her freshman year of high school, but that didn’t stop her from attending the freshman games to support her classmates.
“She wasn’t above them or she never had this ‘I’m better than you’ attitude at all,” Rodgers said.
Lyon’s current coach, Joe McKeown, has noticed the same fierce loyalty.
“She’s really unselfish, tries to be there for everybody as much as she can,” he said. “I think she’s really mature for a freshman in a lot of ways.”
The 6-foot 1-inch forward caught McKeown’s attention early on, when he saw her play in a game her freshman year against his own daughter, Meghan, who also plays for NU. By her senior year, Lyon had played every position for the New Trier Trevians, the product of both team necessity and Lyon’s versatility.
“She’s had to do a lot of things coming into college instead of being labeled at one position,” McKeown said. “She understands the game from a lot of different areas.”
Lyon’s play earned her all-conference and all-area honors for her junior and senior seasons, as well as an offer to come play for the nearby Cats.
In her debut for NU, Lyon dropped 21 points on University of Tennessee-Martin. After the game, she admitted that she was “surprisingly calm” thanks to the support and advice of her veteran teammates, particularly captains Kendall Hackney and Kate Popovic.
“Coming out, from the get-go, they were phenomenal,” Hackney said of Lyon and freshman Lauren Douglas. “They’re great players, they’re talented so to have them come out and drill shots and be aggressive like that, that’s huge for us.”
Lyon averaged 12 points per game in the next seven contests, culminating in her first Big Ten Freshman of the Week award on Dec. 3. Since then, she has won three more Freshman of the Week honors, making her the frontrunner to win Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Currently, she leads all Big Ten freshmen in points per game with 12.9, and is second on the Cats, behind only senior Hackney. Lyon has also scored the third-most points on the team, and despite missing five games due to injury, she has also made 51 three-pointers, by far the most by a Big Ten freshman.
She may be channeling her favorite college player, former BYU and current Sacramento Kings guard, Jimmer Fredette, and all signs point to her as the clear choice for Freshman of the Year.
“At Northwestern and my coaching career, individual honors, we try not to worry about and let them take care of themselves,” McKeown said. “But because she is really unselfish and a great teammate, I think in her case, she’s done a great job. She’s been pretty consistent. That’s a difficult thing to ask of a freshman.”
For her part, Lyon isn’t losing sleep over the award.
“It would just be a reward for all of the hard work I’ve put into the game,” she said, “but it’s just freshman year so I have a lot more years to work on my game and not rest on the awards that I’ve gotten.”
Whether or not she wins the award, NU fans can rest easy knowing the basketball program is in the hands of young player with a wealth of talent, a passion for the game and a drive to win.
“When I refer back to Maggie, I’ll refer back to her work ethic and her love of the game, her knowledge of the game,” Rodgers said. “She’s a good athlete, but she really made herself into the basketball player that she wanted to be.”