EVANSTON — It’s unclear what Joe McKeown did to Penn State in a former life to deserve this, but he has been cursed.
McKeown has never beaten Penn State in his career, and after the Northwestern Wildcats (17-6, 6-4) lost to the Nittany Lions (15-8, 5-6) by a score of 74-58 on Sunday afternoon at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the Philadelphia native now lost all 21 games he has coached against Penn State throughout his career.
“Every year is different, so our senior class has had some great games going back and forth with Penn State, we’ve had plays at the buzzer that just didn’t go our way, and they’ve been really good,” McKeown said. “So I think that’s played into it, but just frustration.”
Nia Coffey had a monster game to lead all scorers with 28 points and 17 rebounds, while Penn State had five players in double digits, led by Teniya Page with 18 points and eight assists.
“I feel like [Nia] came out ready to play as far as taking on different defensive schemes that they had,” McKeown said. “She was really aggressive, hit shots, got to the glass, got out in transition. But that’s who she is.”
The first five minutes moved by quickly and saw Penn State take an early 8-6 lead as the Wildcats started slowly, like they did against Wisconsin. But, out of the first timeout, Coffey scored eight straight points to jumpstart the Northwestern offense.
After a string of weaker performances, Coffey had a dominant first quarter (with 10 points and six boards), but Penn State was able to negate Coffey’s hot start with a 6-0 run of its own. At the end of the first, the Nittany Lions held a narrow 17-15 advantage.
The offenses once again looked sluggish to start the second quarter as there were only 11 points scored in the first four minutes of the fame. Penn State’s offense primarily came at the line, while Northwestern managed to get some free throws from Coffey and a three from Deary. A Lydia Rohde three-pointer followed shortly after and tied the score at 24 points apiece.
After the media timeout, Penn State ended the half on yet another run, this time of the 7-0 variety, to take a 31-30 lead into halftime. Northwestern didn’t score for the final three minutes of the quarter and even though Coffey had a first half double-double — 13 points and 13 rebounds — the Wildcats trailed.
“I thought that we outplayed them, to go in down one at halftime I felt like we were up,” McKeown said. “As well as we played in the second quarter, we just gave up a couple layups late, but I thought we played really well in the first half.”
Despite a slow first half, the action picked up in the third quarter. Penn State ripped off a 10-2 spurt early on to take a 43-36 lead, their largest of the game. Following a McKeown timeout, Northwestern would only score four more points in the quarter and hit one field goal. The Nittany Lions won the quarter 21-10 and extended their lead to 12 heading into the fourth quarter.
Penn State hit a three to open the final frame and go and up 15, which basically sealed the game away. The Wildcats continued to fight, cutting their deficit to 11 at one point, but the disastrous third quarter was too much to overcome.
“We just took some quick shots, which resulted in them doing what they like to do which is transition offense,” Deary said. “And that’s kind of where we lost control of the game.”
With the loss, Northwestern has lost its last 12 meetings with the Nittany Lions and hasn’t defeated them since February 24, 2008, a year before Joe McKeown arrived in Evanston
Northwestern drops to 6-4 in the Big Ten and loses its grip on a Big Ten Tournament double-bye. The Wildcats return to action next Saturday in Bloomington as they take on the Indiana Hoosiers at 11 a.m.