EVANSTON, Illinois — No. 22 Northwestern (10-3, 7-3 Big Ten) notched its biggest win of the season on Monday night, outlasting No. 11 Ohio State (10-2, 5-1) 69-57 in a defensive battle. It’s the Wildcats’ first ranked win of the 2020-21 campaign after losing its first three matchups against AP Top 25 teams.
NU led the entire way behind a dominant defensive performance led by junior point guard Veronica Burton, who nearly had a triple-double, scoring 20 points and adding 15 rebounds, nine assists and three steals. From the jump, the ‘Cats forced Ohio State into difficult looks and turnovers. The Buckeyes shot just 29% for the game and were out-rebounded 46-37 by the Wildcats despite having a substantial size advantage.
The ‘Cats shot 43%, just about their season average, and connected on only one three, but relied on 30 points in the paint to OSU’s 24.
Senior guard Lindsey Pulliam tallied a double-double with 15 points on 6-for-19 shooting and 10 boards. Jordan Hamilton added 13 points on an efficient 5-of-8 performance. Northwestern was able to slow down Ohio State’s forward duo of Dorka Juhasz and Aaliyah Patty, holding the pair to a combined 6-of-21 shooting and forcing Patty to foul out late in the fourth quarter.
Both teams came out of the gate struggling offensively. They combined for a mere 23 points in the first quarter, and neither team connect from deep. The Wildcats’ main source of offensive came from Burton, who began her triple-double campaign with seven points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals in the opening frame.
Defensively, Northwestern put a stop to forwards Patty and Juhasz, both of whom the ‘Cats held scoreless in the first quarter. The Buckeyes shot 3-of-15 from the field, turned the ball over five times and didn’t score over the final 3:55 of the quarter.
A Pulliam jumper on the final set before the buzzer gave NU a 15-8 advantage.
Ohio State’s scoring struggles continued into the second quarter. The Buckeyes did not convert on a field goal in over nine minutes between the first and second quarter.
Northwestern meanwhile seemed to get into an offensive flow early in the quarter. Freshman center Anna Morris contributed for six points and continued to slow down Ohio State’s experienced forwards. The ‘Cats quickly saw their lead get as high as 17 backed behind turnovers.
The Buckeyes could only be kept quiet for so long though and ended the half on a 14-4 run. They brought out the full court press, which proved a smart move by head coach Kevin McGuff.
The pressure translated to shooting struggles for Northwestern. The Wildcats didn’t score in the final 2:38 of the half and failed to convert a field goal in the final 3:52. Lindsey Pulliam struggled in particular, shooting 3-of-11.
Burton led all scorers with 10 points in the half. After the slow start, Juhasz finished the opening 20 minutes with eight points and seven rebounds.
OSU’s Jacy Sheldon turned a late NU turnover into a buzzer-beating layup to cut the Wildcats’ lead to seven at the break.
That momentum continued into the second half. The Buckeyes quickly hit two threes and cut Northwestern’s lead to two. Ohio State’s offense began to play quicker and more efficiently as NU didn’t force a turnover until there were under two minutes to play. Without taking the ball away on defense, Northwestern couldn’t build a lead larger than eight points.
With Juhasz and Patty continued struggles, the Buckeyes turned to Rebeka Mikulášiková, who used her size to keep Ohio State’s scoring momentum going with eight points in the quarter and shorten the Wildcats’ lead once again to five going into the final 10 minutes.
In the final quarter, defense once again won the evening. Northwestern began the frame 2-for-10 from the field while Ohio State went 1-for-8. Sydney Wood led the way with two steals and a block as the ‘Cats tried to grind their way to a larger lead. NU used a Wood layup and an Anna Morris and-one layup to sandwich a Juhasz turnover and build a 60-52 lead.
OSU broke a 4:12 drought from the field with a big three from Patty to draw the Buckeyes within five, but Northwestern had answers. The ‘Cats used clutch free-throw shooting to put the game out of reach.
NU has nearly a week off before it next takes the floor Sunday at Michigan State.