Northwestern falls to Michigan State 65-46

By Brea Lassek

Plagued by turnovers and offensive droughts, Northwestern (11-5, 3-2 B1G) fell 65-46 to Michigan State (9-8, 3-3 B1G) on the road Sunday afternoon. Sparty’s Nia Clouden led all scoring with 19 points, closely followed by teammate Matilda Ekh with 18. The ‘Cats dispersed scoring across their lineup; Caileigh Walsh and Laya Hartman scored 10 apiece while Veronica Burton and Lauryn Satterwhite added nine and eight, respectively. Northwestern heads back home Thursday to face Penn State with tipoff at 7 pm CT. Here are three keys for NU’s next matchup:

1. Support Your Star

It’s no secret that Burton can do it all on the court, as she has time and time again – but she needs some help. Even on a “bad” day, the team captain tallied nine points, eight rebounds and six steals. Although far from her season average of 17.4 ppg, Burton still led NU on both sides of the floor, distributing the ball to her teammates when double-teamed and wreaking havoc on the Spartan guards. 

However, the Wildcats need someone to step up in the scoring column when Burton is not delivering an all-star performance. With a young squad, head coach Joe McKeown is still searching for a consistent supplement to his veteran leader with the absence of senior Sydney Wood from the lineup. In December, first-year Caileigh Walsh not only provided support for Burton but led the Wildcats in scoring in three games. Fellow first-year Melannie Daley showed out on the road against Iowa, accumulating her season-high 22 points. Jillian Brown also had a strong 16-point performance early in the year at DePaul, and Laya Hartman scored 10 points today. The ‘Cats have several options to fill this role, but that support has to be there every single game, especially heading deeper into Big Ten play

2. Weather the Storms 

The acclaimed Blizzard defense struggled against the Spartans, particularly failing to limit their success around the perimeter. Michigan State shot 11-23 from behind the arc, seven of which came from the same side. The Spartans were able to expose a clear hole in Blizzard, consistently capitalizing off of skip passes to the opposite side. This left playmakers like Clouden and Ekh open to cause damage; the pair accounted for all of the Spartans’ three-pointers. 

The Blizzard is a very complex system that often takes time for NU’s opponents to adjust to when it’s run correctly. In order to cause confusion, the ‘Cats can’t have any among themselves and must fix their miscommunication before Thursday. On the other end of the ball, Northwestern didn’t alleviate its defensive woes, going on scoring droughts multiple times during the contest. 

Going into the half, Michigan State only led by one point but exploded for a 14-4 run to open the third frame. The ‘Cats crawled back at the end of the quarter to cut MSU’s lead to seven but once again, struggled to find the net in the final 10 minutes. The Spartans outscored Northwestern 17-5 in the fourth quarter, climbing to a 19-point victory. The game appeared to be a back-and-forth contest in the first half but quickly slipped away from NU, as Clouden and Ekh heated up around the perimeter and everyone in purple seemingly cooled down in the locker room. 

The ‘Cats can’t afford to go minutes without scoring, especially in games where Burton is not accumulating her typical stats. Whether that’s mixing up shot selection or forcing more turnovers for the offense to cash in on in transition, Northwestern needs to find a way to consistently capitalize offensively. From scoring droughts to opponents making it rain from the three-point range, NU has some adjustments to make by Thursday in order to weather the storms.

3. Control What You Can Control

The Big Ten officials had many Northwestern supporters sending angry tweets, calling almost 10 charges against the ‘Cats. Several Wildcats were in foul trouble throughout the contest, namely Burton who finished with four. Yes, some fouls were questionable. Yes, the referees did not apply the same logic always on both sides. But no, that’s not the reason Northwestern lost this game. 

The ‘Cats plagued themselves on both ends of the ball, especially in the turnover battle. Northwestern turned the ball over 21 times throughout the matchup, compared to Michigan State’s 15. Turnovers not only contributed to scoring droughts for the Wildcats but also accounted for 19 of MSU’s points. Furthermore, NU shot only 62.5% from the charity stripe. The ‘Cats will face questionable officiating during the remainder of conference play – just ask the men. They need to focus on controlling what they can control, even when calls seem to not be going their way.