EVANSTON - Today’s game was about way more than just basketball.
The Northwestern Wildcats (14-4, 3-2 B1G) defeated the Indiana Hoosiers (12-6, 2-3) 80-67 on Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena, but the basketball was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
"I've probably coached close to 1,000 division one games, but it all just becomes irrelevant in these situations,” head coach Joe McKeown said. “If we had lost to Indiana, if we had beaten Indiana, it would have been irrelevant to us.”
Sports are trivial, and it’s times like these where that becomes abundantly clear. But sports also offer an opportunity for communities to come together, offer support, and grieve.
That’s what today’s game against Indiana represented.
Northwestern won the game, but it was never about the outcome. It was about the emotional moment of silence pregame. It was about the nearly full Welsh-Ryan Arena stands, and packed student sections.
And it was about Amber Jamison getting her first start of the season, wearing Jordan Hankins’ jersey in honor of her teammate and her friend.
“Amber and Jordan were unbelievably close, and Amber asked me if she could wear her number,” McKeown said. “The whole team wanted to wear shirts before the game, during the game. So I think that was a heartfelt decision from everybody, but driven by Amber, just to express her relationship with Jordan.”
After the game, the players had an emotional moment with Indiana head coach Teri Moren as she hugged each player individually in the post game handshake line.
“The message was for each of those kids was that although you have the Indiana family and you have the Northwestern family, there is such a thing as the Big Ten family, and we’re all a part of that,” Moren said. “I just made sure that they knew that we had been thinking about them and praying for them and supporting them from afar.”
Then in an incredibly moving moment, all the students stayed afterwards and sang the Alma Mater with the team, before giving them a standing ovation.
“It’s emotional, we’ve been through so much this past week, and to get a win for her and just have that release off of us, just that satisfaction in knowing that we were able to come together and play this game, as hard as it was for all of us.” Ashley Deary said. “It was just like release, we did it, we overcame this hump that seemed impossible.”
As for the actual game itself, Northwestern put together an inspired performance. Nia Coffey led Northwestern with 14 points and 14 rebounds and Ashley Deary had one of her best games of the year with 18 points and 8 assists. Indiana’s Amanda Cahill led the Hoosiers with 17 points to go along with 13 rebounds, but All-Big Ten guard Tyra Buss shot 4-of-17 from the field and Indiana only managed 9 bench points to Northwestern’s 20.
It was an emotion-filled first five minutes as the teams traded buckets, and the Northwestern big three of Coffey, Inman and Deary did much of the heavy lifting. Halfway through the first quarter Northwestern held onto a slim 11-10 lead.
After the media timeout, Nia Coffey had a quick little 6-0 run all by herself, electrifying the crowd and extending the Northwestern lead to 7. Then, the Wildcats ended the quarter with an extended 12-2 run, capped off by an Ashley Deary buzzer beater that sent the crowd into a frenzy. After the play Deary tapped her chest and pointed to the sky.
“Throughout the whole game we all just wanted to embody [Jordan’s] spirit and her aggressiveness and mostly her confidence, and just play with her swagger because that’s what she would have done,” Deary said. “She was the type of player to just go at it and I just wanted to make her proud.”
Through one quarter, Northwestern led 23-12, but the action slowed down quite a bit in the second quarter. Only one field goal was hit through the first four minutes, a layup by Indiana’s Jenn Anderson. Northwestern managed to get back on track with back to back buckets from Coffey and Inman to keep the lead at double digits.
Indiana finally got Tyra Buss going towards the of the half as she scored five straight points, and Indiana had an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 3. Northwestern managed to weather the storm and led 32-27 at half.
The action picked up in the high scoring third quarter. After there were only a combined 24 points in the entire second, both teams combined for 32 points just a little more than halfway through the quarter.
Both offenses ran effectively, but the highlight was an Amber Jamison three-pointer from right in front of the Northwestern bench. Northwestern managed an 8-0 run towards the end of the quarter to take a 57-46 lead into the fourth quarter.
The late third quarter run would prove to be the difference, as Northwestern continued to run its offense and keep their lead at or near double digits. On a day that was about everything other than basketball, Northwestern still played its heart out and took home the victory 80-67.