EVANSTON — Northwestern women's basketball came up short in its second conference home game against Purdue, losing 85-71 after a poor team effort. The Wildcats turned the ball over 21 times as Purdue pulled away in the second half.
"I'm just disappointed," Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said. "We did a lot things execution-wise that are just not us."
Five players scored in double-digits for Purdue (12-2, 3-0 Big Ten) as Northwestern (12-3, 1-2 Big Ten) struggled with interior defense. Although Northwestern looked better on the boards than in previous games, the Wildcats did a poor job of contesting Purdue's shooters and allowed a bunch of easy baskets.
Maggie Lyon led the Wildcats with 24 points on 8-21 shooting and Nia Coffey added 24 points. Ashley Deary had a subpar game with 10 turnovers and just nine points. Christen Inman started the game shooting the ball well (4-5 from the field) but struggled in the second half (2-8 from the field) and finished with 14 points. Northwestern shot just 17.6 percent from three as a team.
In the first half, Northwestern turned the ball over 11 times and played very sloppily on offense. Deary uncharacteristically turned the ball over five times in the first half. Coffey picked up three early fouls and only played 12 minutes in the first half. Christen Inman and Maggie Lyon provided much of the Wildcats' scoring, but Purdue took advantage of Northwestern mistakes and opened up a seven point lead at halftime.
"At the end of the second quarter... I thought, 'We're fine,'" McKeown said. "But we just made a lot of bad decisions."
Northwestern came out flat in the second half as Purdue went on a 8-2 run to put Northwestern down by 13. Northwestern had three turnovers to start the quarter, forcing McKeown to call a timeout. Purdue held onto the lead and ended the third quarter up by 13. Purdue had a 20-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, but Northwestern mounted a furious comeback and cut the lead to nine with three minutes remaining. However, Purdue closed the game out with free throws and easy layups in crunch time as Northwestern fell to 1-2 in Big Ten play.
Northwestern entered the game first in the Big Ten in turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio. However, turnovers hurt the Wildcats early, as they had 11 at half which led to 11 Purdue points.
"We gotta see where they came from and why," McKeown said. "I thought it was decision-making more than anything else. We handled [Purdue's] press. I thought we handled them changing defenses. Really, all our wounds were self-inflicted tonight."
To make matters worse, the Wildcats only had two steals leading to four points. Northwestern is a team that relies on turnovers and being able to get out in transition. Ashley Deary had zero steals until late in the game and Northwestern's half-court defense was unable to stop Purdue from getting open shots. Purdue did a very good job of taking care of the ball and shot 46.4 percent from the field. During the run, the Boilermakers scored at will during the third quarter. Northwestern had 21 turnovers in the contest and will not win many games with those kind of numbers.
Northwestern avoids the three, for some reason
With shooters like Maggie Lyon, Christen Inman and Ashley Deary on the floor, Northwestern usually shoots a bevy of three-pointers. Northwestern entered the game averaging 21 three-point attempts per game. In this game, Northwestern attempted 17 threes, and only made three of them. Most of those attempts came as Northwestern was trying to come back in the second half. Purdue baited Northwestern into shooting midrange jumpers, which worked in the first half but failed in the second half. Northwestern went back to long-range shooting late in the game, but by then it was too late. Northwestern has to make 5-7 threes per game if it wants to stay competitive in Big Ten play.
Northwestern's fifth starter and bench continues to be an issue
The four regular players (Lyon, Inman, Deary, and Coffey) for Northwestern scored Northwestern's first 46 points of the game. Northwestern's production from the fifth starter position continues to be a major problem. Christen Johnson, Lydia Rohde, Maya Jonas, and Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah combined for two points. Johnson looked slow on the court and was a liability on offense. Jonas got hit in the face early in the game and did not play much in the second half. Defensively, Rohde and Johnson looked out of their depth. Jonas and Kunaiyi-Akpanah were better on defense and on the boards but again, neither contributed anything on the offensive end. With Lauren Douglas still out, Northwestern continues to have no answers at the fifth starter position.
Northwestern foul trouble
Since Northwestern only has four viable threats on offense, when just one of those players has to come out of the game, it hurts the team. When that player is Nia Coffey, it hurts all the more. Coffey got her third foul early on in the second quarter and had to sit out the rest of the first half.
"It’s really hard for us, we need [Nia] on the floor," McKeown said. "We need her scoring we need her presence, she creates double teams. We can’t afford to have her sit down."
Coffey only had 7 points and 2 rebounds in the first half and Northwestern only had 31 as a team. (They scored 28 in the first quarter against Nebraska). Coffey came back in the second half and had 15, but it wasn’t enough to best the even scoring of Purdue.
Postgame press conference
Northwestern faces a tough test in the next week and a half, playing three ranked teams on the road, starting with Michigan State on Sunday.