Recap: Wildcats play #14 Maryland tough, ultimately fall 68-65

The Northwestern Wildcats (9-13, 2-6) dropped a hard-fought matchup against the #14 Maryland Terrapins (18-3, 7-1) by a score of 68-65 on Thursday night at historic Beardsley Gymnasium.

Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah battled injuries en route to yet another double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while teammate Lindsey Pulliam finished with 19 points to lead all scorers.

Despite Maryland shooting just 28% from the field in the second half, Kaila Charles played an efficient offensive game, tallying 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting, and coupled with Eleanna Christinaki’s 15 points, gave themselves a large enough cushion that, in the end, could not be overcome by Northwestern.

The Terrapins started the game with relentless defensive pressure, especially from Kaila Charles on Jordan Hamilton as the Wildcat guard brought the ball up the floor possession after possession. Initially leading to a few poor passes and easy Terrapin buckets, the two teams were able to more evenly trade blows as Hamilton ran her offense a little more patiently. The pace of play stayed high, but the Terrapins were able to use a 7-0 run in sixteen seconds, fueled by a couple of Wildcat turnovers, to pull ahead 22-15 with just over three minutes to play in the first. The quarter ended with a 26-23 Maryland lead, on the back of 10 Terrapin points off four Wildcat turnovers. Maryland and Northwestern shot 67% and 73% from the field, respectively.

Early in the second quarter, Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah and Abbie Wolf led a truly relentless offensive rebounding effort for Northwestern that kept the hot-shooting Terrapins off the board for the first 2:46 of the quarter, and without a made field goal for 3:32 until Eleanna Christinaki buried a wide-open three from the left wing to give the Terrapins a one-point lead.

The Wildcats won the next few rebounding battles and converted on self-made opportunities to answer back to every Terrapin score. Kunaiyi-Akpanah also took over as the primary scorer for Northwestern as Abi Scheid sat the majority of the second quarter after picking up two quick fouls early on.

Maryland’s defense continued to take no possessions off, however, and were able to force five Wildcat turnovers in the last 4:30 of the half, and convert off those turnovers to fuel an 8-0 run that eventually put them ahead, 41-33 at the half.

Kaila Charles tallied 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting in just eight minutes on the floor, and Eleanna Christinaki added nine of her own for Maryland.

To start the second half, Northwestern gave the ball up some more, but Abi Scheid’s return from the bench helped the Wildcats keep it relatively close, and Lindsey Pulliam was the first Wildcat to 10 points. The third quarter was also characterized by an absolutely smothering Northwestern defensive effort, leading to the Terrapins missing ten straight field goals over a 7:58 stretch to close out the quarter. Northwestern capitalized relatively well on the other side of the floor, pulling within five by the end of the period, 52-47.

At the 2:53 mark of the third quarter, Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah left the game with a lower-body injury, limping gingerly on her left leg as she came off the court. She returned with just under nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, quickly registering a steal that led to a Lindsey Pulliam layup to bring the Wildcats within one, but then was almost immediately pulled by head coach Joe McKeown after the possession after she started limping again.

With 7:54 left in the fourth, Lindsey Pulliam split a pair of free throws to tie the ballgame at 52. The Maryland Terrapins finally broke their field goal drought that started with 7:58 in the third quarter with a Stephanie Jones at the 6:29 mark of the fourth quarter that tied the game again at 54.

When the media timeout hit with 5:15 left in the ballgame, the moods could not have been more opposite in the two teams’ huddles. Maryland looked defeated, while Northwestern clearly had a fire under them, and knew that had a chance to take down the conference’s best team.

Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah re-entered the game again with five minutes left in the game, as did Jordan Hamilton, despite having racked up four fouls. Kunaiyi-Akpanah grabbed yet another clutch offensive rebound and her subsequent putback knotted things at 60 with 2:57 left.

With Maryland in the bonus and knocking down their free throws, Northwestern committed a pair of costly turnovers and surrendered one too many offensive rebounds in the last two minutes, and found themselves down 63-60 with 1:11 left.

A Maryland and-one, a poorly executed Wildcat inbounds play, and a flurry of timeouts later, and the Wildcats found themselves staring a 66-61 deficit in the face with 21.1 seconds left. Kunaiyi-Akpanah stole the ball and laid it in to cut the lead to three, but on the ensuing possession Northwestern only gave their required foul with 4.4 left, sending Kristen Confroy, her team’s second-best free throw shooter (77% on the season) to the line. She sank both.

The wackiness continued as Kunaiyi-Akpanah was fouled off the ball before Northwestern was able to even inbound the ball on the subsequent possession. In her trip to the free throw line, she missed both, but got her own rebound, found Pulliam for a layup with less than a second left, but it was too little too late as the Wildcats fell, 68-65.

Northwestern will wrap up their two-game homestand on Sunday against Michigan as they try to their three-game losing streak. Parker Johnson and Ben Krieger will have the call for WNUR Sports at 2 p.m.

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