Here are three takeaways from Northwestern's 75-68 win over Indiana Thursday:
Northwestern didn’t bring its A-game...
But, as the cliché goes, the good teams find a way to win, and that’s what Northwestern did. Tonight was a bricklaying contest from the outside. The teams combined to shoot 26% from deep on 9/35 shooting in a game where neither team made it a point of emphasis to guard the perimeter. Maggie Lyon was open all night, but couldn’t get much to go down, from the outside, going 1/6 from deep. Credit to her for adjusting her game and getting to the rack more often in the second half to finish with 16. Nia Coffey had another one of those games where she piled up stats despite playing, in truth, a mediocre game. She finished with 14 points and 12 boards but went 5/15 from the floor and had 4 turnovers. Yet NU continued to go to their star players again and again, perhaps at the expense of their other contributors. Christen Inman was hot from tip-to-horn, but in classic Christen Inman fashion, did it in the flow of the offense. She finished with 13 on 5/7 shooting but you never felt like NU was making her a primary part of the offense. It’s very much like the Northwestern men’s team and Tre Demps. There are games where it’s cool if he shoots it 15 times, but there are other times where you wish he’d only shoot it 8 times and other people picked up the slack of the offense. NU could’ve used less Lyon and Coffey and more Inman/Cohen (who finished with 9 despite playing limited minutes)/Douglas (who also had 9). Still, the team finished with 6 players with at least 9 points. Lyon and Coffey still took more than half of the team’s shots, but everyone showed what they can do with limited touches.
Lack of frontcourt depth shines through again
When Alex Cohen picked up her 3rd foul early in the 2nd half, you couldn’t help but feel like it was happening again. Northwestern has no real backup center with Allie Tuttle still a deep reserve, so when Cohen had to go to the bench and Coffey had to slide over to the five, you almost knew Indiana was going to make a run. Before that foul, NU was up 6 and was in control of momentum. When Cohen came back 6 minutes later, NU was losing. With Cohen back, NU made another run to put the game out of reach and was able to hold on to seal the deal. Frontcourt depth is going to continue to be a problem, not just this year, but down the road too. NU’s tallest recruit for next year is just 6-2, and with Cohen graduating, the situation only gets more dire. Unless Allie Tuttle or Christen Johnson can take a big leap in their third and fourth years respectively, NU is going to be razor thin and small next year. That’s a dangerous game to play.
What does this mean going forward?
Northwestern will remain in a tie for 7th place in the Big Ten at 6-5 in conference. Indiana, meanwhile, will drop into a tie for 10th place. This was a game NU needed to have. Northwestern will have 3 more games against teams either tied or below them in conference in their next three, with games against Illinois, Purdue, and Michigan. With the Penn State loss a huge black eye on Northwestern’s resume, you have to figure they can’t afford to drop too many more against lesser competition. NU is the definition of a bubble team right now, resting in the last four in according to ESPN. These 3 upcoming games might well decide NU’s fate. Win them all and it’ll be hard to keep the Wildcats out. Drop one, and it gets very difficult. NU has huge tests against conference leaders Maryland and 3rd place Nebraska left on their schedule as well. Beating their next three opponents and Wisconsin will get them to 10 conference wins, and that’s an awfully good resume. NU handled business against Indiana. With Douglas getting back to full health, this team might just have enough gas to close out the season strong, something that they haven’t done in recent years.