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Rapid Reaction: No. 21 Northwestern fades down the stretch, falls to Rutgers 70-54

In what began as a defensive battle, the Wildcats were simply out-executed offensively in the second half.

Northwestern Athletics

EVANSTON, Illinois — The Northwestern Wildcats (11-4, 9-4 B1G) to Rutgers (7-3, 3-3 B1G) on Thursday after failing to match the Scarlet Knights’ scoring consistency in crunch time. RU prevailed primarily due to a fourth quarter in which they outscored the Wildcats 23-10.

Stars Lindsey Pulliam and Veronica Burton struggled all day from the field, converting on only four of their 23 attempts from the field. The ‘Cats missed their star power late, as the offense was unable to match the force of Rutgers’ Tekia Mack, who scored nine in the fourth.

Jordan Hamilton led NU in scoring, with 13 points as well as two rebounds and and one assist. Sydney Wood and Paige Mott supported with 12 points each and a combined 11 rebounds and five assists.

After Rutgers won the opening tip, Hamilton intercepted a Scarlet Knight pass and eventually converted a three-pointer on NU’s first shot of the game. The Wildcats went scoreless for the next 3:12, while Rutgers scored seven straight before Sydney Wood broke Northwestern’s scoring drought with 6:09 left in the quarter, bringing the score to 7-5. Notably, the ‘Cats’ elite backcourt of Pulliam and Burton went a combined 0-7 from the field in the first. Hamilton, Wood and Paige Mott went a combined 6-6, though, allowing the Wildcats to trade blows with the Scarlet Knights before the quarter ended with Rutgers leading, 16-15.

Wood and Hamilton continued to lead Northwestern’s offensive attack in the second quarter. Together, they accounted for nine points, while the rest of the team recorded only four, a sign of Pulliam and Burton’s continuing struggles. Defensively, the ‘Cats were strong, forcing four turnovers. Behind eight points in the period from Arella Guirantes, though, including the last six on back-to-back three-point plats, the Scarlet Knights still totaled 12 in the second quarter, leaving the score tied at 28 to close the half.

The Wildcats’ stars began to get things going in the third quarter, each knocking down their first threes of the game in the first half of the period. Both teams as a whole were relatively hot to start the second half, each hitting three straight attempts from the field ahead of a media timeout with 4:11 left to play in the quarter and the Scarlet Knights leading, 40-38.

Rutgers proceeded to score on their next two possessions while blanketing the Wildcats, prompting Joe McKeown to call a timeout with Rutgers leading 45-38 and 2:55 left in the quarter. The timeout was successful in producing an offensive spark for NU, who managed to draw three shooting fouls and convert on four of five attempts from the line to draw closer to RU, as the quarter ended with the Scarlet Knights leading 47-44.

To start the fourth, Mack hit a turnaround jumper, with the two teams then going scoreless for a minute and twenty seconds. From there, the Wildcats began to score more consistently, but were matched by the Scarlet Knights after nearly every make, including a big face-upthree from Mack with 5:26 to play that brought the score to 56-51.

As the teams reached the home stretch of the game, the Scarlet Knights continued to build their lead, closing things out on a dominant 17-3 run during which the Wildcats were simply unable to come up with an answer. Tyiah Singleton finished with 17 for the visiting victors, with Mack adding 16 points and 13 rebounds, leading scorer Arella Guirantes chipping in 15, and freshman point guard Diamond Johnson scoring 14 in a balanced effort.

Northwestern will attempt to bounce back in a rematch with #12 Ohio State in Columbus this Sunday.