It wasn’t always pretty, but it was easy.
Northwestern (19-9, 8-7 B1G) played a very bad basketball team who played like a REALLY bad basketball team. Rutgers (6-22, 3-12 B1G) came out and scored 8 points in the span of 2 minutes in the first quarter and proceeded to score just 13 points the rest of the entire half, a vast swath of terrible play that included multiple instances of a Scarlet Knight throwing a pass straight to Joe McKeown on the Northwestern bench. Northwestern always plays a hyper-aggressive defense, but it’s hard to give the team in white the lion’s share of the credit for this one. Rutgers never looked interested in running decent offense all night long.
The struggles weren’t just for the Scarlet Knights. By the time the game had wrapped up, both teams had combined for 38 turnovers while hitting 35 field goals. Those turnovers included one instance of Ashley Deary just placing the ball on the floor in the backcourt to tie her shoe and having a Rutgers player come up and steal it from her. Seriously. It was that kind of game.
Meanwhile, it was the right way for Nia Coffey to close out her outrageously tremendous Northwestern career at Welsh-Ryan Arena. In the Wildcats’ last home game of the season, Coffey went for 27 and 6 without getting a whole lot of help from her supporting cast. With Christen Inman sidelined with injury and Ashley Deary, Amber Jamison, and Lauren Douglas not bringing their A-games on offense, Nia Coffey had to do what she’s had to do so many times: be the entire Northwestern offense. She performed more than admirably.
In a weird way, this is the kind of game Nia Coffey is built for. Lots of broken floor situations allowed her to flaunt her athleticism and busted sets let her flash her outside touch. She was playing at a different level tonight.
Northwestern’s other healthy, big impact senior, Ashley Deary played fine (that weird shoe-tying turnover aside), dishing 8 dimes and picking three pockets to go along with 5 points. She picked up her fourth foul early in the fourth quarter, and while it didn’t meaningfully affect the outcome of this game, it did highlight how much she’ll be missed next season. The offense stagnated in a major way. Northwestern has a handful of highly touted guards coming in to the program, but it’s hard to imagine any of them stepping in and being a floor general like Deary. That will be a big story next season.
This season’s story didn’t really change with this win. Rutgers is rooted to the bottom tier of the Big Ten Conference, so this win won’t change the Wildcats’ resume. NU is still on the outside of the bubble going into a must-win road game against Purdue this weekend, and they’ll probably need to make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament afterwards if they want to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Tonight’s performance made it clear why Northwestern is in a tough spot, but it also showed why they’re going to be a tough out in and West Lafayette and Indianapolis. Nia Coffey will be the best player on the court in most of the games she plays, and the defense is among the conference’s best. If a role player can get hot and/or if Christen Inman can get herself back healthy in time, there can still be a happy ending to this year’s story.