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Rapid Reaction: ‘Cats battle back after early struggles, beat Clemson 72-61 on the road

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The team got its first win against a Power Five opponent this season.

CLEMSON, S.C. — Like it has during much of the 2021-22 season, Northwestern stared adversity right in the face on Thursday night.

Down early on the road, the Wildcats (5-3) confronted it head-on and wound up with a 72-61 win over Clemson (4-3). Veronica Burton led the way for the ‘Cats, setting a career-high with 32 points. She also added five rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals to complete a dominant, multi-faceted performance that sparked NU’s comeback.

The Wildcats struggled on offense early, missing five of their first six shots from the field, but strong offensive rebounding from Courtney Shaw and a corner three from Jillian Brown kept the ‘Cats within two points of Clemson through the first five minutes, as they trailed 11-9.

Following a media timeout, the Tigers began to catch fire. A layup from Amari Robinson catalyzed a 9-2 run in which the team shot 4-of-5 from the field.

Despite poor shooting, Northwestern continued to keep the game in reach by making 7-of-8 free throws. The ‘Cats traded baskets with CU in the final two minutes of the first quarter to make the score 22-16 in favor of the hosts.

But Clemson’s full-court press disrupted NU’s offense. Another three-point play from Robinson and a flurry of turnovers by the Wildcats on their own side of the court fueled a 7-0 Clemson run to open the quarter before Joe McKeown took a timeout.

A Veronica Burton three-point play helped the ‘Cats finally get going. A forced shot-clock violation built defensive momentum that resulted in a four-minute scoreless stretch for the Tigers, while also fueling an offensive run headlined by a Caileigh Walsh three-pointer that pulled Northwestern within five.

Eno Inyang ended the Tigers’ scoring drought with 3:26 remaining in the quarter. Robinson left the floor after she picked up her third foul, but the Tigers slowly regained their offensive composure to end the half with a 37-30 lead.

Coming out of the break, Northwestern renewed its defensive intensity. It clogged the lane after allowing the Tigers to score all but nine of their first-half points inside the paint.

Delicia Washington knocked down a pair of jumpers to keep the offense going, but the momentum translated to NU’s offense. Lauryn Satterwhite converted a layup and racked up two assists to pull NU within three points of the Tigers, forcing Amanda Butler to use a timeout.

Soon after the timeout, though, Satterwhite suffered a leg injury and needed assistance to walk off the court. The injury, plus the Tigers’ heightened emphasis on limiting Burton, forced the ‘Cats to readjust on offense.

Turnovers kept the offense from running smoothly, but the ‘Cats managed to stay in the game regardless. Burton made her presence felt on both sides of the ball with a thrilling block and a layup, and through a three-pointer from Brown and a layup from Melannie Daley, NU managed to cut the Clemson lead to 48-47 at the end of the quarter.

The Wildcats took their first lead of the night following Walsh’s second three-pointer. Washington responded with a layup in transition to put the Tigers back in front.

A jumper from Daley then started what would become a decisive 11-0 run. Burton put the exclamation point on a stellar performance with a floater and a three-pointer to give Northwestern a 64-56 lead — its largest of the night.

An injury to Washington made it even more difficult for the Tigers to generate crunch-time offense. Butler brought back the press defense to try and energize the Tigers, but it didn’t slow NU down. Another three from Burton put the dagger in Clemson’s hopes.

Northwestern will return home to begin its conference schedule against Wisconsin on Sunday.