Nine tries in 19 years at George Washington. Thirteen tries in 11 years in Evanston.
Twenty-two times in the past three decades Coach Joe McKeown had sent his squad up against Penn State. Twenty-two times he had failed to come away with a victory. Some had been close, like the one point loss that McKeown’s only NCAA Tournament teaming his Northwestern tenure suffered to a 4-15 Penn State in 2015. Most had been blowouts. But it all, finally, changed last night.
Coming off of a tough road overtime loss to Minnesota in which they battled back from double-digit third quarter deficit to take a late lead, but couldn’t hold on, the Wildcats (15-10, 8-6) were attempting to make history against one of the worst Penn State teams (10-14, 3-10) McKeown had faced in that stretch.
And from start to finish, Northwestern dominated. The Wildcats got out to a quick 14-2 start, never looking back en route to a 40-22 halftime advantage. Strong defense and missed shots were the key in the first frame, with the Nittany Lions shooting a woeful 8-of-34 from the field and 1-of-7 from three-point land.
Early in the third quarter, Penn State went on a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 13. Briefly, it felt like deja vu all over again. But Northwestern never let them get closer than that 13, closing things out comfortably thanks to impressive shooting and solid second-half play from Bryana Hopkins.
Lindsey Pulliam led the way all-around for the Wildcats, pouring in 22 points despite an inefficient 9-of-25 performance. Outside of Pulliam and Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, who failed to reach double digit points for the third straight game but did add eight rebounds, Northwestern shot a red-hot 61 percent from the field.
Abi Scheid did her part on that end. The junior, who missed a pair of potential game-winning free throws at the end of regulation in Minneapolis, was 4-of-5 from three, garnering 14 points and six rebounds. Jordan Hamilton added 12 points and three each of rebounds, assists and steals.
Hopkins put up nine off the bench. Veronica Burton matched her point output, and tied her own career high with seven assists. For Penn State, stud senior Teniya Page led the way with 15.
Northwestern is a little bit closer to the postseason, but must almost certainly win at least three out of their last four games to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats will be back in action this Sunday night at 5 p.m. CT against Purdue. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.