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Three takeaways from Northwestern’s crushing loss to Rutgers

Northwestern had a 10-point lead at one point, but collapsed down the stretch.

Rutgers Athletics

Northwestern hung in against Rutgers for three-and-a-half quarters (even getting out to a 10-point lead early in the second), but the Scarlet Knights’ dominant 12-0 run in the last four minutes of play put the ‘Cats away. It was another sloppy game offensively for NU, which is now 1-14 in Big Ten play. Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s loss in Piscataway:

Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers

Northwestern turned the ball over 28 times last night. Twenty-eight. And it made up over 32% of NU’s possessions. The last time that happened was over a decade ago, when Northwestern committed 34 turnovers against Illinois in Jan. 2013.

The fact that Northwestern was able to hold a 10-point lead at one point and stay within reach until late in the fourth quarter speaks to how sloppy this game was. The ‘Cats forced 19 Rutgers turnovers, but just continued to shoot themselves in the foot and failed to get any steady momentum. It’s been a problem all season for Joe McKeown’s squad, and its failure to capitalize on the Scarlet Knights’ miscues perfectly sums up why Northwestern is 1-14 in the conference right now.

Finishing strong starts with the fourth quarter

For the ‘Cats to end this season on a high note in their last three matchups, they’re going to have to minimize the soul-crushing runs that have erased their strong starts. Against Maryland, it came in the second quarter when the Terps outscored them 18-2. Last night, it came in the last four minutes.

NU went back and forth with Rutgers throughout, but its offense imploded down the stretch. It wasn’t a matter of talent, nor was it a takeover by Kaylene Smikle, who had 21 points. It was giveaway after giveaway, which helped the Scarlet Knights get out in transition. Northwestern had five turnovers in about three minutes, and just couldn’t find good looks. Minnesota and Nebraska are on deck, and both of those teams can put points up in bunches. The ‘Cats can’t let them develop enough momentum to take them out of the game.

Jillian Brown is starting to find her groove

Even though she came off the bench, Brown played 32 minutes, her highest total in over two months. Along with Sydney Wood, she breathed life into a stagnant NU offense at times, dropping 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Brown found lanes to the basket even though her shot wasn’t falling from three-point land to steady the ship.

It was probably the sophomore’s second-best offensive performance in conference play this year, behind her 17-point game at Michigan on Dec. 4. After a midseason stretch where her minutes fluctuated pretty heavily, Brown has played over 20 minutes in each of NU’s last three tilts. With not much to play for down the stretch, it could be wise for McKeown to embrace the youth movement and run the offense through Brown in these last few games. As Wood graduates, Brown should be Northwestern’s primary wing scorer next season, and closing the season on a high note after her midseason shooting slump could be a great confidence-booster.