by Callie Counsellor (@CCounsellor)
New day. New opponent. Same result.
Northwestern came close to another upset win but ultimately fell to Michigan State, 67-62.
“It was just a tale of two halves,” coach Joe McKeown said. “We played really hard tonight against probably the best defensive team in the league. It was a terrific game. I’m really proud of our effort.”
A win would have been a season highlight for NU (10-11, 2-6 Big Ten) against a Michigan State team that sits at third in the conference, behind No. 7 Penn State and No. 14 Purdue. The Cats also suffered close losses to both of those teams.
Despite the loss, the team did exceed expectations in several aspects. Only three other teams have reached 62 points against a Spartans team that ranks sixth in the country in scoring defense, holding opponents to 49.3 points per game.
Center Dannielle Diamant was tasked with breaking through the stout Michigan State post players and proved she was up to the challenge. The senior led the team with 21 points and seven rebounds. Defensively, she held Michigan State center Jasmine Hines to only four points.
“They are probably one of the most aggressive teams that we faced all year,” Diamant said. “They’ve always been like that. Their posts are big, they’re strong. They box out, they go hard at the basket and everything. I think we did a really good job tonight.”
The Wildcats’ breakdown came in their defense of junior guard Annalise Pickrel, who led the Spartans with 21 points, including five three-pointers.
“She’s a really good shooter and she showed that tonight,” Diamant said. “We weren’t able to stop her.”
To start the game, NU’s defense looked like the star, holding Michigan State (17-4, 5-3) scoreless through the first four minutes. The Cats took a 10-0 lead before the Spartans began their comeback, eventually tying the game at 14 with 10 minutes left in the half.
Despite 13 turnovers, NU took a 32-26 lead into the halftime.
The beginning of the second half progressed much like the end of the first, with both teams making runs but neither pulling away.
Then, with just over seven minutes left and NU leading by one, a foul called on Hackney prompted McKeown to rip off his jacket, throw it on the ground, and untuck his shirt, nearly causing a wardrobe malfunction that no one in Welsh-Ryan Arena wanted to see.
“He was more mad at us, it wasn’t the refs,” sophomore guard Karly Roser said. “They just took the blame.”
The outburst earned him a technical foul for “bench decorum” and gave the Spartans three free throw shots, all of which they made.
“I felt like I hurt our team with the technical foul at a bad point,” McKeown said, “so I’ll take the hit for that.”
Michigan State ran with the momentum from there, building a 61-50 lead with three minutes to go.
NU was not done yet, though. The Cats fought back to bring the lead down to six with 30 seconds to go, despite two missed free throws from Diamant down the stretch.
Freshman Lauren Douglas, a breakout star for the Cats this year, stepped up and hit a three-pointer with 11 seconds left.
After an intentional foul, Michigan State made its two free throws and preserved the five point lead in the remaining nine seconds.
Despite the loss, both McKeown and the players cited their aggressive play as encouragement for the rest of the conference schedule, starting with Iowa (16-6, 5-3) on Sunday.
“It hurts right now,” Roser said, “but looking back tomorrow, we’ll be proud of our effort and know that we have to keep that up in order to win.”