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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern struggles late, survives Rutgers 68-63

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It was a little closer than it should’ve been, but a win’s a win.

EVANSTON, Ill. — With the loss to Ohio State in the rearview mirror, Northwestern (11-4, 3-1 B1G) bounced back with a win over Rutgers (7-11, 0-6 B1G) in a game that certainly had its convincing moments, but was all but comfortable for the Wildcats.

Despite some struggles throughout, the ‘Cats came away with the win over the Scarlet Knights thanks to another strong performance from Veronica Burton, 68-63.

Burton led the way for the Wildcats with 18 points, nine assists and four steals. Caileigh Walsh followed close behind with 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting. For Rutgers, it was the Osh Brown show, who had 22 points and 16 rebounds on 7-of-9 shooting.

After Rutgers opened the game’s scoring with a left corner three and another deep three late in the shot clock, Shaw earned the first points for the Wildcats after rebounding her own miss and scoring a putback off the glass. Two Scarlet Knight free throws later, Walsh answered with a paint bucket to keep the deficit at four. Walsh then found Shaw on the next possession under the hoop, who spun around for her second basket.

After a short break, Rutgers’ Lasha Petree drilled her second corner three, putting her team up five. The momentum didn’t last long, however, as Burton picked up her first steal, taking it coast-to-coast for the score. With a chance to go up three, Rutgers found an open woman under the basket, but Shaw came seemingly out of nowhere to reject the shot, keeping Northwestern down 11-10 at the end of the first quarter. The opening period was sloppy for both teams — Northwestern shot just 31% from the field while Rutgers tallied eight turnovers.

Following missed shots from the Wildcats, the Scarlet Knights scored the first two baskets of the second on interior layups. Paige Mott retaliated with two free throws, but Rutgers’ Chyna Cornwell punished Northwestern’s interior defense with a layup and the foul. However, she did not convert, prompting a mini-takeover from Burton. The Backcourt Burglar knocked down two free throws, then lived up to her namesake by stealing a pass and finding an open Laya Hartman behind the arc to tie the game at 17.

The Wildcat defense seemed to figure it out at this point, launching a full-court press to pressure the Knights into several turnovers, including a 10 second violation and a shot clock violation. Burton drew a charge on the next possession, then immediately found Lauryn Satterwhite on the left wing to give the team a three point lead. Burton then took matters into her own hands, scoring three points with an and-one layup before once again finding Hartman for an open three on the right wing. The long-range jumper capped off a 15-2 run that saw the ‘Cats go from a five-point deficit to an eight-point lead.

The senior guard picked up her fourth assist of the half by finding Shaw on the low block for an easy jumper. The very next possession, Hartman found a sprinting Burton behind the arc for an open three. Burton drilled it to give the ‘Cats a seven point lead at the break. Following a first period where Northwestern only scored 10 points, the Wildcats outscored the Scarlet Knights 22-14 and led Rutgers 32-25 at halftime. Burton led all scorers at the intermission with 10 points on 3-for-4 shooting.

Walsh started the second half with a bang, hitting on a three from the top of the key off an assist from Burton. After two Rutgers free throws, Shaw grabbed an offensive board and put it up off the glass for two. One possession later, Burton unleashed her signature crossover into a finger roll layup. She then picked off consecutive passes that directly translated to five points, thanks to a technical foul that added two free shots. The 9-0 run over the span of two minutes put Northwestern up 15 about halfway into the third quarter.

Rutgers hit a three coming out of a timeout, but Walsh retaliated with a driving post layup and her own three to keep the lead at 15. However, an airball on a heat check from Walsh allowed the Scarlet Knights to cut the deficit to single digits via a 6-0 run. Hartman broke the run with a jumper from just inside the foul line, but two free throws and a late-clock shot that mirrored Hartman’s ensured that Rutgers would only trail by seven entering the final quarter.

Two post buckets for Rutgers opened the final period of scoring, but Melanie Daley got her first points of the game on two jumpers to keep the difference at seven. After Northwestern forced a travel, Burton found Daley yet again from the foul line for her third consecutive make. Burton added a free throw to reset the lead back to double digits, but Brown retaliated with an and-one post shot to add to an impressive night.

The game was all but over, as Rutgers knocked down two threes with under four minutes to go to cut NU’s lead to just four. With the ‘Cats on a four minute scoring drought and all the momentum swinging toward the Knights, the prospect of coming out of Welsh-Ryan with a win seemed slimmer than it did in the third quarter.

As the clock ran under two minutes, Shaw knocked down a free throw to give the ‘Cats a five-point advantage, but Rutgers converted on an unbelievable four-point play to cut Northwestern’s lead to just one with 90 seconds remaining. The foul was Burton’s fourth of the game.

With the Rutgers on a potential fast break opportunity, a chasing Shaw fully extended her arms and managed to tip a pass that certainly would’ve been the lead-changing layup out of bounds. The following possession, Daley picked off a pass and took it to the rack to put the Wildcats back up three with 43 seconds to go. The shot was Northwestern’s first made field goal in nearly six and a half minutes.

Hartman stripped her Petree on the ensuing possession, and Burton knocked down two clutch free throws to seal the deal for the Wildcats, clinching their 11th win of the season and eighth at home.

Northwestern returns to action on Sunday when they travel to East Lansing to face Michigan State at 1 p.m.