No. 14 Northwestern is one game away from its first Big Ten title in three decades.
The ‘Cats (25-3, 15-2 B1G) took care of business for the eighth consecutive game, wearing down the Ohio State Buckeyes (17-11, 10-7 B1G) down the stretch to take a crucial 69-55 road victory. The win tied both the program records for most conference and most overall wins in a single season.
The Wildcats dominated offensively, shooting an impressive 56 percent from the field and 46 percent from three. Abi Scheid and Lindsey Pulliam led their team to victory yet again, finishing with 19 and 16 points, respectively, with the former leading the way on a remarkable 5-7 performance from deep. Sydney Wood had a standout day as well, amassing 12 points, nine rebounds (four offensive rebounds) and a team-high plus-minus of +17.
While she has carried the team in the past few weeks, Veronica Burton had an uncharacteristically tough night, finishing with just four points on 2-of-3 shooting and the only negative plus-minus in the rotation. However, she added valuable minutes on defense, as usual.
Ohio State jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead after Dorka Juhasz drained her first two shots. Northwestern immediately fought back to tie the game up at seven but back-to-back buckets from Braxtin Miller (no, not that Braxton Miller) regained the five-point lead for OSU.
While the ‘Cats managed to close the gap, a three minute scoring drought allowed the Buckeyes to regain a 17-11 lead with under two minutes to play. In the final minutes of the quarter, Northwestern managed to cut Ohio State’s lead to 19-17 thanks to Courtney Shaw.
The Buckeyes opened the second quarter by extending their lead to six, forcing a Joe McKeown time out. Scheid came out of the timeout hot and started to hit from deep to help the ‘Cats take their first lead of the day at 27-26. However, every time she hit, OSU would respond and retake the lead.
The two teams exchanged leads via free throws in the final few minutes of the half, but Northwestern’s lockdown defense prevented the Buckeyes from connecting from the field in the final four minutes. The drought allowed NU to take a 36-33 at half — their largest lead at that point.
Northwestern shot an impressive 65.2 percent from the field in the half. Scheid and Pulliam led the way with 11 and seven points in the half, respectively. Despite the strong shooting performance, NU gave up an uncharacteristically high 10 turnovers, resulting in 13 first half points for the Buckeyes — keeping them in the game early on.
Northwestern maintained its momentum early in the second half, extending the lead to six. However, after seven and a half minutes without a field goal, Juhasz ended OSU’s drought with two consecutive layups to cut the NU lead to two. The two teams battled for most of the quarter until Northwestern found a 9-0 run in the final two minutes of the quarter, capped off by a remarkable 30+ foot Pulliam buzzer-beater, to extend its lead to 56-45 heading into the fourth.
The two teams battled defensively and were held scoreless early in the fourth, but Northwestern managed to slowly grow its lead to as much as 17 behind impressive defense and some tough missed shots. NU held the Buckeyes scoreless for five minutes in the quarter, preventing OSU from gaining any momentum or chipping away at the lead.
Courtney Shaw finished with a crucial six points, three rebounds, and two blocks, and was a +12 in just 15 minutes. The Wildcats managed to beat the Buckeyes handily despite allowing them to take seven additional shots, thanks largely to 13 offensive rebounds.
For Ohio State, who was without typical sixth player Kierstan Bell due to a coach’s decision, Juhasz put up her third straight double-double, amassing 15 points and 12 rebounds. Freshmen Jacy Sheldon and Rebeka Mikulasikova each added 12 in the losing effort.
Northwestern will host Illinois on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. in its final game of the regular season and Senior Day. A win will secure the ‘Cats at least a share of the Big Ten title.