EAST LANSING — Veronica Burton and Lindsey Pulliam combined to come just five points away from outscoring the entire Michigan State team. That is good, and so are these Wildcats.
22nd-ranked Northwestern (17-2, 7-1 B1G) continued its road dominance, dispatching the Spartans (11-8, 4-4) 76-48 in East Lansing to move to 6-0 in true road games and remain at least tied for the Big Ten lead, pending the result of tonight’s clash between Ohio State and Iowa.
Burton, who was named to the Naismith Women’s Defensive Player of the Year Midseason Watch List this morning, totaled 22 points, eight rebounds, a whopping six steals, three assists, and two blocks for the ultimate stat sheet-stuffing performance. Pulliam matched her with 22 points, adding five rebounds and a team-high five assists.
After a sluggish start that featured multiple missed layups early by NU and plenty of giveaways by both sides, Michigan State held a 5-2 lead at the under-five timeout. However, Northwestern went on a 15-2 run — helped by forcing four turnovers — over a four-minute stretch to lead 17-7 after one quarter of play.
The gameplan was made clear early, as Northwestern focused on getting the ball inside as much as possible. Even when the shots didn’t fall, offensive rebounding proved to be a major strength as the ‘Cats grabbed 13 boards to extend possessions.
Burton and Pulliam each scored 11 points on a combined 9-of-18 shooting in the first half.
Joe McKeown’s squad did a good job locking down star Spartan Nia Clouden. The sophomore was held scoreless in the first half, and, shockingly, neither she nor point guard Taryn McCutcheon finished with a single point, combining to go 0-10 from the field with six turnovers. Freshman Myra Joiner was the only one keeping MSU in it at the half, as she was a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the arc.
Northwestern had trouble maintaining leads earlier in the month, but there was no such issue Thursday night. Abbie Wolf chipped in six points as the Wildcats opened the third quarter on a 12-2 run to build a 20-point lead. Michigan State continued to turn the ball over and miss shots as Burton and Pulliam continued their stellar play to provide NU with a 59-32 cushion heading into the final quarter.
Notably, the two created back-to-back three point plays, including a remarkable twisting reverse layup from the point guard that served as the clear highlight of the night.
In the fourth, after back-and-forth early action, the bench continued the ‘Cats’ impressive showing, holding MSU under 50 and earning a couple of impressive late baskets. Freshmen Kaylah Rainey and Laya Hartman each got in on the action with their first career baskets in conference play.
Wolf added 14 points and nine rebounds for Northwestern. Abi Scheid, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, had a quiet night with only five points, but chipped in six rebounds and four assists. Joiner was the only Spartan in double figures, finishing with 17 points.
As a team, the Wildcats created a season-high 19 (!) steals, which came as a part of 24 total Michigan State turnovers. The embattled Spartans suffered their first home loss of the season.
Next up for the Wildcats is a date with 20th-ranked Maryland on Sunday afternoon in College Park. NU controlled the last meeting 81-58 in December.