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Northwestern comeback falls short again

by Callie Counsellor (@CCounsellor)

The starts are always fast, the finishes are always exciting, but the wins are not coming for Northwestern this year.

The Wildcats fell to Ohio State, 59-52, on Sunday for their first back-to-back losses since Jan. 17.

“We’ve been preaching 40 minutes,” coach Joe McKeown said. “We fought back today, got it down to four, and they made a couple plays. You’ve got to play 40 minutes.”

As is their tendency, the Cats started fast with six straight points and held the Buckeyes off the board until over three minutes had passed. NU’s defense suffocated OSU under the basket, thanks in large part to freshman Lauren Douglas, who had back-to-back blocks in the opening minutes.

NU’s interior defense fell apart after that, however, allowing 36 points in the paint.

“They were able to get the ball inside because they were able to penetrate on the perimeter and they have quick, athletic guards,” McKeown said. “It’s hard to stop them off the dribble. Then their big kids finished.”

Notably, the team did not allow any three pointers, something that sophomore Alex Cohen said has been a focus in practice.

“We work on closeouts every practice, containing three points shooters because that’s something we’ve struggled with in the past so this is something that we’re really trying to work on as a team,” she said. “I didn’t know they didn’t score any three pointers so that’s exciting to hear.”

In the end, Ohio State didn’t need the three pointers. The Cats had particular trouble containing Ohio State guard Taylor Hill, who went off for 26 points.

“We knew that she hadn't been shooting threes as well this season but we knew that was still a threat because she’s a great player and any great player can go off,” freshman Maggie Lyon said. “Sometimes we might have overcompensated.”

Ohio State began building a lead five minutes before halftime with aggressive play that led to two NU turnovers.

The Buckeyes took a 33-26 lead into halftime, and built their advantage to 10 to start the second half.

With six minutes left, the Cats began their now-routine comeback, pulling within four on a Lauren Douglas layup with 2:43 left.

The Buckeyes rebuilt their lead to eight before Danielle Diamant knocked down a three-pointer to give NU one last shot. Ohio State made their free throws, however, and the Cats comeback fell short for the second straight game.

Regardless of the outcome, for many players this day was about more than basketball.

Both teams donned pink shoes, pink-lined jerseys and pink headbands for the WBCA Pink Zone game, which aims to raise awareness of breast cancer as well as honor breast cancer survivors. The game also served as one of the events for National Girls and Women in Sports Day, which included a pre-game discussion for local girls in fourth through twelfth grades. Northwestern players and coaches were on hand to answer questions and ESPNW reporter Sarah Spain presented a keynote address about women in the sports industry. Players also signed autographs after the game.

“It was really special,” Lyon said “Despite the outcome of the game, it’s just a game at the end of the day. It’s really cool to play for such a great cause and to know life is bigger than the game.”

“We’re blessed here at Northwestern, all 14 of us, to play for a great school and a great program,” Cohen added. “Women’s sports have come such a long way since Title IX and I think it’s a really great thing to be able to recognize that. So many men and women have breast cancer and have survived and fought it. It’s a great cause and we need to keep fighting for that and trying to find a cure.”

The announced crowd of 2,507 was by the far the largest of the season, creating an atmosphere that McKeown would like to see more often.

“Unbelievable atmosphere today,” he said. “It was just a great day for our players to be part of that. I wish the outcome were better but what a great atmosphere to play in today. Hopefully we can recreate that a lot.”