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Stifling defense drives Northwestern to dominant 81-58 upset over No. 12 Maryland

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What a way to close 2019.

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EVANSTON — After opening up Big Ten play with a blowout win over Illinois, the ‘Cats (12-1, 2-0) followed up with an even more impressive 81-58 upset win over the No. 12 Maryland Terrapins (10-3, 1-1).

The Wildcats were dominant from start to finish, trailing for just 16 seconds in the entire game. Maryland was giving up just 52 points per game coming into today. Northwestern had 53 points with 3:41 left in the third quarter.

“We’ve had tough games with [Maryland],” head coach Joe McKeown said. “We just played through everything — we played through mistakes, turnovers and tried to stay relentless on defense... and, you know, we just have competitive kids.”

Northwestern, who entered today’s game best in the Big Ten in opponent points per game at 50.6, held Maryland to just 31% (9/29) shooting in the first half and 30.5% (18/59) on the game. Maryland also failed to make a single three pointer in the first half, going 0/7 from deep (the Terps entered the game leading the Big Ten in three point percentage). Their first three pointer came at 7:46 left in the fourth quarter, and they ended up shooting 22% (4/18) from deep on the game.

Turnovers also played a key role. Coming into today’s game, Maryland led the Big Ten in turnover margin at +10.9, but looked far removed from that stat today. The Terrapins turned the ball over 15 (!) times in the first half alone and 24 times over the course of the entire game. Meanwhile, Northwestern turned the ball over just five times in the first half and 12 times in the game, winning the turnover margin by a long shot.

“Defense is something we really take pride in,” sophomore Veronica Burton said. “Any chance we get we’re tipping the ball and being in the right spot at the right time so I think just trusting our defense and trusting our teammates was what allowed us to be good.”

On the offensive end, junior Lindsay Pulliam led the Wildcats with 24 points on 33% (6/18) shooting, while also posting team high’s with seven rebounds and four assists. Burton followed very close behind, posting 23 points along with three assists and six steals, four of which came in the first half.

“[The win] was a great feeling,” Pulliam said. “It gives us even more confidence going into the rest of Big Ten play. I think every game we come in with a chip on our shoulder because we know people don’t really respect us.”

The ‘Cats shot well throughout the game, going 22/50 (44%) throughout the game and 50% (6/12) as a team from three, a season best. Senior Abi Scheid led the team from deep, going 3/5 from three point range.

Northwestern did a great job of keeping drawing fouls as well. The ‘Cats were fouled 26 times throughout the game and sunk 31 of their 38 attempted free throws, with Pulliam and Burton leading the way on 10-10 (100%) and 14-15 (93%) shooting from the charity stripe, respectively.

The one weak point of Northwestern’s game came down low. Twenty of Maryland’s 58 points came in the paint. Additionally, the Terrapins out rebounded the ‘Cats 35 to 15. The Terps managed to come away with 19 offensive rebounds to Northwestern’s seven, but were unable to do anything with them, scoring a mere 10 second chance points and shooting 10/20 on layups.

With the win, Northwestern remains atop the Big Ten at 12-1 (2-0). Meanwhile, Maryland falls to 10-3 (1-1). The Wildcats will attempt to continue their win streak against vs. Iowa on Jan. 5. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m.