It may have been cold outside, but Northwestern’s opponents were blazing hot inside Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The Wildcats (6-6, 0-2 B1G) will head into 2023 at .500 after reopening Big Ten play, falling to the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (14-0, 3-0 B1G) 81-48.
The ‘Cats were led by Courtney Shaw, finishing with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Jillian Brown led all NU scorers with 13 points, also picking up three steals and two blocks.
For the Buckeyes, Cotie McMahon led the offensive attack with 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting. Taylor Miksell also added 16 points, nine rebounds and a whopping seven steals.
The Wildcats controlled the opening tip, got on the board first with a Jasmine McWilliams free throw and forced a Buckeyes turnover on their first defensive possession. However, Northwestern found itself in early foul trouble, with Paige Mott and Caileigh Walsh picking up two early fouls and being sent to the bench. Ohio State had three and-ones in the first three minutes to go on a 9-0 run.
Sydney Wood had multiple attempts inside the paint on the offensive end of the floor, but could not capitalize on any opportunities. With six minutes to go in the opening quarter, OSU was in the bonus for the rest of the frame. Shaw made a free throw to end NU’s four-minute scoring drought as the ‘Cats trailed 13-2 at the first media timeout.
Out of the break, Hailey Weaver buried a three-pointer to give the ‘Cats their first field goal of the game. The OSU defense swarmed the ‘Cats on the perimeter, but Northwestern was able to capitalize on second-chance opportunities. A steal and acrobatic finish through contact by Weaver cut the Wildcats' deficit to five with three and a half to play in the quarter.
However, Wood could not get anything going in the quarter, and as has been the case throughout the season, turnovers plagued NU — the 'Cats had seven turnovers in the first quarter. Although OSU spent most of the quarter in the bonus and turned the ball over five times, NU held its own, trailing 18-13 at the end of the quarter.
NU came out strong in the second quarter, forcing two turnovers in the quarter's opening minute and a half. Brown sank a pair of free throws to make it a one-score game, but Walsh picked up her third foul and was sent back to the bench on Northwestern’s ensuing possession.
Throughout the next few minutes, both teams struggled to establish offensive momentum. But Ohio State eventually took control and showed why it entered the game as the No. 3 team in the nation, going on a 7-0 run and forcing Joe McKeown to burn a timeout with 5:18 left in the half with NU trailing 25-15.
Instantly out of the timeout, Northwestern turned it over for an easy Buckeye layup. Shaw broke the OSU run with a layup on a good find from Kaylah Rainey. As OSU maintained its full-court press throughout the half, the Wildcats struggled to keep possession, break the press and shoot well when they found open looks. A three by Brown would cut the Northwestern deficit to 35-24 heading into the locker room. NU shot 25.8% from the field and 18.2% from three in the first half. Despite only having two more turnovers than the Buckeyes, the Wildcats had zero fast break points compared to OSU’s 15.
Northwestern came out of the break looking flat, giving up three easy buckets before a layup by Wood stopped the bleeding. McKeown called a timeout with almost eight left in the quarter and was visibly upset with how the Wildcats started the second half.
Out of the timeout, Northwestern became the team to pull out the press, forcing an OSU turnover. Walsh finally found the bottom of the net for the first time in the game with a wide-open three, but turned it over on the following NU possession. Walsh’s three did not flip any momentum, as Ohio State would control the game and led 47-31 at the quarter's first media timeout.
Northwestern continued to struggle on both ends of the floor, leaving wide-open Buckeyes for easy layups and leaving shots short on the offensive side, allowing OSU to grow its lead to more than 20. Ohio State did not stop pressing, forcing errant Northwestern passes that turned into easy turnovers and points. The Buckeyes shot 61.5% from the field in the third quarter, while the Wildcats were only able to find the net on 35.7% of their shots. In a bright spot for NU, Shaw found Walsh at the end of the third for an easy layup, but Northwestern trailed 59-38 heading into the final frame.
Shaw’s layup in the fourth gave the forward her first double-double since coming off the bench, but she was the extent of the ‘Cats’ offense for the night. Walsh fouled out with six minutes left to play. OSU expanded its lead throughout the fourth as both teams cleared their benches. There was no comeback to be made, as the Wildcats were defeated 81-48.
Northwestern will be back in action on Monday, Jan 2. 2023 against the Michigan State Spartans at 7 p.m. CST.