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Northwestern women's basketball takes down Michigan State, again

Northwestern dominated the Spartans in the first half and withstood a poor second to hold on for a big win.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Northwestern women's basketball team continued its run towards the AP Top 25 rankings, and maybe the NCAA Tournament, with a dominating win over Michigan State on Sunday afternoon at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

Things did not start smoothly at all for the Wildcats (13-2, 3-1 Big Ten) who found themselves down 14-5 a few minutes into the game after some sloppy and lackluster play. Combined with hot shooting from the Spartans, it appeared as if today might be a second-straight loss for Joe McKeown's team.

"[At the TV timeout after going down 14-5] we just tried to settle down," McKeown said. "I think we were a little hyper coming out...When we started getting out in transition, we played a lot better after starting out sluggish."

However, thanks to Ashley Deary (18 points and 10 assists) and Maggie Lyon (15 points and seven boards), the afternoon turned around quickly. NU started to get open shots, especially from three-point range, and hit those shots. Also, with Deary's help--she scored 16 first half points--the Wildcats attacked the hoop with ferocity and effectiveness, getting high-percentage looks.

Michigan State (8-8, 0-5) has fallen apart since these two teams met in their respective Big Ten openers back on December 28th in East Lansing, in a game NU won 61-57. At the time, MSU was the 20th-ranked team in the country but has lost all four games since, all of which were in the Big Ten.

"I think at home it definitely helps to maintain composure," guard Maggie Lyon said with regards to this game and the other Northwestern-Michigan State matchup. "We had a little bigger of a lead here but we have to learn to keep those leads, stay together and finish out the win."

After the Spartans opened up their early nine-point lead, the Wildcats rolled off 20 consecutive points to break the game open. The three-pointer helped a lot with this, as NU made six triples in the first half at a 50 percent clip. Deary and Lyon both made two in the game's first 20 minutes.

MSU would not go away, fighting back to get within four points with the score 29-25 in favor of the home team. But then NU went on another streak, scoring 15 of the game's next 16 points to extend its advantage to 18 points right before the end of the first half.

The beginning of second half was much of the same for both teams. The Spartans hung around for a few minutes but then the Wildcats, who had all five starters score double figures, flexed their offensive might and locked down on defense. Nia Coffey's (12 points) lay-in at the 12:24 mark gave NU a 20-point advantage that should have closed this out.

But, MSU was not going to lose its fifth-straight game lying down. The Spartans fought all the way back in the second half to get within two points. Then a pair of Christen Inman (14 points) buckets gave the Wildcats some breathing room before a Lyon three put this one away with less than a minute to go, sealing the win.

"We're still young and we still do things that we have to get better at," McKeown said. "I think in the first half we did a pretty good on [Aerial Powers, Tori Jankoska and Becca Mills of Michigan State] but we saw in the second half how good those three are."

Coffey, NU's leading scorer with 15.9 points per contest heading into Sunday, was not much of a factor early on as her fellow starters stole the scoring spotlight.

Deary had not eclipsed eight points since a December 20 win over Eastern Illinois, but scored early and often against MSU. She and Alex Cohen (14 points) easily went over their respective season averages of 8.3 and 7.9 points.

Powers led the way for Michigan State, as she scored 24 points to go with seven assists and seven boards. Jankoska added 18 points with eight rebounds and Mills scored 15 for a Spartan team trying to find its way.

Next up for the Wildcats, who shot 47 percent from the field and from three-point range, is a road meeting with No. 14 Iowa in Iowa City this Wednesday. With a win, the Wildcats could sneak into the rankings.