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Penn State 76, Northwestern 75: Foul trouble, rebounding sink Wildcats

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Northwestern was in it late on the road against Penn State, but with key frontcourt players fouling out, the Wildcats couldn't find a way past the Nittany Lions.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern women's basketball plays a hectic style. The Wildcats force turnovers, they run, and, more often than not, they turn it over a bunch themselves. At this point, you more or less have to accept that NU is going to play that way. I

t makes it all the more frustrating then when NU keeps its turnovers so low as it did today and still doesn't win. The Wildcats (14-5, 4-4) turned it over less than 10 times tonight but still lost, 76-75, against Penn State (5-15, 2-7).

Northwestern got some pretty good individual efforts too. Maggie Lyon went off for 20 points and 7 boards, hitting 5 three-pointers and Christen Inman chipped in with 16 points of her own.

But with Lauren Douglas held out due to injury, Northwestern was razor thin in the frontcourt and couldn’t stay out of foul trouble. Nia Coffey, who finished with a double-double with 10 points (albeit on 4-17 shooting) and 11 rebounds, fouled out with over 5 minutes to play and Alex Cohen did the same a couple of minutes later.

Northwestern has stuck to a seven-player rotation all year, and today that lack of depth was exploited. With Joe McKeown’s starting center and power forward out, he had to turn to a five-guard lineup of Ashley Deary, Karly Roser, Christen Inman, Lydia Rohde, and Maggie Lyon. Lyon played the 5, a position I don’t think she’s played in years, if ever, and Lydia Rohde had to play meaningful minutes down the stretch, something the freshman has never done during her time at Northwestern.

That lineup was powerless to keep Penn State off the glass, as PSU finished with two players (Alex Harris and Kaliyah Mitchell) notching points-rebounds double-doubles, and as a team the Nittany Lions outrebounded Northwestern 48-32.

This is a hard one to swallow for Northwestern. Penn State is used to being at the top of the Big Ten, but with their three best players from a year ago leaving, including all-everything Maggie Lucas, the Nittany Lions have slumped all the way to the bottom of the Big Ten. This was a win Northwestern needed to have. Tournament teams don’t lose to teams who are 10 games under .500.

The Wildcats had chances to win late. They tied the game with 35 seconds to go and had a chance to get the ball back with around 10 seconds to play, but couldn’t grab the rebound and Rohde fouled Candice Agee on the loose ball. Still, Agee only made one of her two foul shots, and with 8 seconds left, NU had time to get a good look. Strangely, the play was designed for Rohde, a player averaging less than 5 minutes a contest and who has shot the ball only 13 times this season. Her shot fell well short, and Northwestern left Happy Valley with a loss.

Northwestern needs to hope that junior Lauren Douglas can recover from her injury as soon as possible. All year, the worry with this team was that being seven-deep was going to cost them. With the Wildcats only 6-deep right now, the margin for error is nearly eliminated.

Northwestern still sits in the top-half of the conference, but NU is slipping, losing three of their last four and only beating Illinois 68-67. A lot needs to get fixed before Northwestern welcomes in Iowa on Thursday, a team that stomped the Wildcats 83-70 earlier this month. Joe McKeown and company have their work cut out for them.