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Northwestern women lose Big Ten opener to Penn State 79-72

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern women’s basketball suffered a disappointing 79-72 loss in its Big Ten opener at Penn State. Northwestern had a one-point lead in the fourth quarter after a huge second-half comeback, but failed to hold the lead after Maggie Lyon fouled out late in the contest. Penn State led for large stretches of the game and went on a 10-0 run in the final stages of the fourth quarter to seal the victory behind huge games from freshman Teniya Page and senior Brianna Banks. Northwestern falls to 13-2 on the season.

The Wildcats started the game well behind Maggie Lyon’s shooting as she racked up 11 points, including three three-pointers in the first five minutes. Northwestern took an early lead but Penn State battled back to take a 22-18 lead after a fast-paced opening period. Northwestern trailed for the entire second quarter as Brianna Banks and Candice Agee controlled the boards for Penn State. Northwestern shot poorly in the first half, going 25.6 percent from the field while being out rebounded 34-23 by the Nittany Lions. Northwestern scored just 13 points in the second quarter and ended the half down six.

Northwestern did not improve early in the third quarter as Penn State stretched the lead to 10 with four minutes to go in the period. Lyon and Nia Coffey continued to carry the offense but bad turnovers and poor defense halted any attempts for a Northwestern comeback until a 12-0 run after a Joe McKeown timeout. Lydia Rohde hit two three pointers to tie the game at 52 before Northwestern took the lead on a 17-2 run at the end of the third.

In the fourth quarter, Penn State retook the lead behind key shots from freshman point guard Teniya Page, who led the Nittany Lions with 27 points. Northwestern got two huge baskets from Christen Inman to retake a one-point lead with 3:30 left to go in the game. However, Lyon fouled out of the game and Penn State immediately went on a huge scoring run that put Northwestern behind 71-64 with less than 90 seconds remaining. Then Coffey fouled out, leaving Penn State to close out the game with free throws.

The Wildcats were tested by a Penn State team that beat them in Happy Valley last season. Penn State only had 7 assists but they created plenty of second-chance opportunities and points in transition. Coffey had a double-double yet again as she led the team with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Lyon and Rohde were both on fire from beyond the arc but Northwestern lacked production from Inman and Ashley Deary until the fourth quarter.

Deary and Inman shot 30 percent from the field and would have been under 30 percent if not for two layups from Deary at the end of the game. Maya Jonas, Christen Johnson and Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah offered little help offensively and on the boards in this game. Northwestern's top four players continue to get a staggering amount of playing time, and Northwestern’s bench unit turned in a very poor performance in limited minutes, outside of Rohde.

Defensively, Northwestern was repeatedly beaten inside and failed to stop Penn State from getting open shots in the perimeter. Northwestern was out-rebounded 61-43 by Penn State and had no answers on the glass. The team also struggled with Page and Banks, who combined for 52 points and significantly outplayed Northwestern. Once Lyon fouled out, the team also lost focus defensively. Penn State shot well from the field and Northwestern was just unable to respond. Amazingly, McKeown falls to 0-19 against Penn State in his head coaching career. The women’s team will hope to respond at home against Nebraska on Jan. 3.