by Callie Counsellor (@CCounsellor)
It wasn’t always pretty, particularly looking at the bruises covering senior Dannielle Diamant’s body after the game, but Northwestern pulled out the 79-69 win against University of Tennessee-Martin on Friday night in their first regular season game of the year.
“Just a hard-fought game,” coach Joe McKeown said. “(Tennessee-Martin is) a team coming off an NCAA Tournament and conference championship last year. Especially, I liked how we played the last five or six minutes. I just felt like we defended really well. We had a couple sloppy turnovers but for the most part, we closed out pretty strong.”
The Wildcats seemed to have the game well in hand in the first half, outscoring the Skyhawks 37-28 and out-rebounding them 27-15, including seven offensive boards to Tennessee-Martin’s one.
NU benefited from poor three-point shooting by Tennessee-Martin, who hit just 26.7 percent of their shots from beyond the arc in the first half.
Tennessee-Martin’s two star guards, juniors Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome, were held in check in the first period, shooting a combined 9-25. However, as Tennessee-Martin staged a comeback in the second half, the two combined to hit 11-22 shots.
“They’re great shooters, they’re great, aggressive players so we knew we had to hone in on them from the beginning,” senior forward Kendall Hackney said. “They definitely got their shots and we knew that. We’ll work on that.”
The Skyhawks clawed their way back by making many of the three-pointers they had been missing in the first half, including three in the first two and a half minutes of the second period. They took the lead, 44-42, with 14 minutes and 50 seconds left in the game.
The Cats were also out-rebounded to start the second half, leading to eight second-chance points for the Skyhawks.
However, NU stepped up when it needed to, grabbing five rebounds in the last three and a half minutes, and widening their lead from two with 6:42 left to 13 with one minute left.
Northwestern got big production from its freshman forward Maggie Lyon, who finished as the leading scorer with 21 points.
“Her offense is going to be there, she has the ability to score, but she’s starting to play both ends of the floor,” McKeown said. “She’s a big, strong kid, so she’s versatile (and) can play inside-out. It’d be great if she were our leading scorer every night, but Dannielle (and) Kendall also have the ability to do that too so it’s good to have alternative opportunities to score.”
Lyon certainly is used to scoring in big numbers, as she amassed 1,275 points at New Trier High school. Her defense, she said, will be her focus this year.
"(The defense is) really what I've been trying to focus on in practice," she said, "because I can sometimes hit shots, so I feel like the offensive side, that’ll come to me, but the defensive side I need to focus on more.”
Lyon and the four other freshmen will rely heavily on the leadership of seniors Diamant and Hackney, who have a combined 175 games of collegiate basketball experience.
“When (Diamant and Hackney) were recruited, people told them Northwestern averaged three wins a year, two wins a year, four wins a year,” McKeown said. “Since they’ve been here, they’ve averaged seventeen, eighteen, so they know. They bring that every day. When they walk on the court, we expect to win.”
Hackney finished the game with 20 points, while Diamont led the team with 11 rebounds. Diamant also took the brunt of Tennessee-Martin’s aggressive play and was slow to get up several times.
“They play hard. I can give that much to them,” she said. “Very physical, and I think it’s good to start off the season that way because all Big Ten teams are physical too, so it’s just something I’ve got to get more used to.”
The Cats have a quick turnaround as they return to Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday to take on Central Michigan.