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Northwestern women’s basketball slips by Purdue, 61-56

The Wildcats made it dicy down the stretch, but did enough to move into a tie for first place in the Big Ten.

Northwestern v Duke Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

EVANSTON— Abbie Wolf scored a career-high 24 points to go with 11 rebounds and five blocks, Lindsey Pulliam added ten despite her worst shooting night of the season, and Northwestern (14-2, 4-1 Big Ten) used an early second half surge to carry them into a share of first place in the conference.

Purdue (11-6, 2-3) made a run down the stretch to get things interesting, but the Wildcats dodged a last-second scare to complete their bid to join the AP Top 25 for the first time this season. Northwestern matched a 12-minute Boilermaker stretch that included just one made field goal with a 13-minute run of scorelessness beyond the free throw line, turning things around just in the nick of time.

To start, Purdue looked impressive. Thanks to some shaky Wildcat shooting, the Boilermakers began on a 10-4 run, but NU reeled them back in over the course of a back-and-forth first quarter. Offensive rebounds and turnovers on both ends created opportunities for easy baskets, with a buzzer-beating Wolf layup cutting the deficit to one at the break.

Then, Northwestern began to take over. Jordan Hamilton, who played 14 first half minutes off the bench, created a personal 7-0 run with a floater, a nice steal, and then an open look from three, handing the Wildcats a lead that they would not relinquish (though it came close a few times).

With the defense beginning to lock down, the aforementioned Boilermaker drought began late in the first half, and though NU didn’t fare much better, they headed into the half with a seven point lead. Wolf led the way with 11 points on 5-5 shooting, six rebounds, and two blocks, with Abi Scheid tacking on an additional nine. A struggling Pulliam was just 1-11 from the floor, though, holding the ‘Cats’ offense back.

The third quarter began with more of the same. Missed layups, a problem that plagued Purdue in the first half, continued to rear their ugly head. After the 19-4 Northwestern run across the Boilermaker drought had concluded with a nine-point Wolf flurry, Purdue was 2-13 on shots around the basket (center Ae’Riannna Harris leading the way at 0-7) and the ‘Cats led by 18, their largest advantage of the night.

Slowly, the Boilermakers clawed their way back into it. Veronica Burton’s departure led immediately to an 8-0 Boilermaker run. The Wildcats weathered the storm, ending the third quarter with a 12-point advantage, but the starters, each of whom played at least 30 minutes (everybody but Sydney Wood was in for 34) were on their last legs.

Burton free throws carried Northwestern through the end of the third quarter, but Purdue completely shut things down early in the fourth. The Wildcats missed on a whopping 21 consecutive field goal attempts, and slowly but surely, the Boilermakers worked their way back into the game.

The NU defense largely held up, but showed some cracks, and Purdue finally broke through with a Lyndsey Whilby three with just 2:43 to go, finally cutting the lead back to a single possession. After a few empty trips both ways, Wolf snagged a Pulliam miss, capitalizing with a crucial layup to bring it back to a five point lead with 1:20 to go.

Another stop led to a gorgeous back-cut from Pulliam. Burton found her under the basket, and the game looked safe with the lead at seven. Jenelle Grant, who led all scorers from Purdue with 16, hit a jumper, but Byrdy Galernik responded with two clutch free throws.

Then, though, things turned. Sharpshooter Karissa McLaughlin canned a tough three, and after a turnover from Hamilton, Harris made a layup with nine seconds left. Pulliam split a pair of free throws and suddenly the Boilermakers had a chance to tie, but Grant’s three clanged away harmlessly and Burton sealed it with a pair at the stripe.

Pulliam finished a woeful 3-19 from the field, and Burton, her back-court partner, added to the shooting difficulties with an 0-6 performance, though she did manage seven points, six rebounds, four steals, and three assists. The Wildcats shot just 32 percent from the field and 14 percent from three on the night, but offset the struggled with 19 offensive rebounds (seven from Wolf) and by committing just 11 turnovers (they forced 18).

The difficulties down the stretch cropped up for a second straight game, but so did Northwestern’s ability to work their way to a win despite a lack of offensive production from their guards. In the end, a win’s a win, especially against a team in Purdue that NU hadn’t beaten since 2016.

Ultimately, tense moments aside, the win gives the Wildcats a share of the conference lead, and they will almost certainly be a part of the next AP rankings as they head into a big showdown on Thursday night with #12 Indiana.