In a game of inches, Northwestern came out on the wrong side.
Freshman point guard Ashley Deary’s driving layup bounced off the rim and out as time expired, and the Wildcats' (14-9, 4-6 Big Ten) NCAA Tournament hopes were dashed by a 70-68 home loss to Michigan (15-8, 6-4) Thursday night.
“Just a frustrating finish,” said Northwestern's head coach, Joe McKeown. “I thought we played great defense the last couple minutes, [so] to come away empty-handed is really frustrating.”
Sophomore guard Maggie Lyon scored a team-high 16 points for the Wildcats, but it was freshman Siera Thompson’s night: The Michigan guard poured in 25 points, including 16 after halftime. She drilled five three-pointers, including three in a two-minute stretch of the second half, to sink Northwestern.
After sophomore forward Lauren Douglas and Deary hit back-to-back threes to tie the game with less than 30 seconds left, Thompson was sent to the line on a controversial call. McKeown pleaded for a travel, but Thompson drilled two free throws to regain the lead. Afterward, Lyon didn’t care to dwell on the call.
“The game is never decided by the last play, so it doesn’t really matter,” she said.
Rather than that play, McKeown and his team will most likely be focusing on their slow start. While they struggled to get the ball inside, Michigan forward Cyesha Goree continually found space in the paint on her way to 10 first-half points. After that, the Wolverines jumped out to a 25-11 lead.
“Unfortunately, I feel like sometimes we come out flat in the first half, which is something we need to work on,” said Lyon.
Thanks to some lights-out shooting from beyond the arc, Northwestern was able to climb back into the game. Nearly everyone got into the action, but senior guard Meghan McKeown’s two triples in the first half were especially important.
The hot hands didn’t cool down at the half. Eight different players hit a three, and the ‘Cats finished at a smoldering 12-for-21 from long distance. Still, it wasn’t enough. Thompson made the plays down the stretch that Michigan needed to win, and the Wildcats couldn’t quite match it. After two straight losses by fewer than four points, McKeown was understandably frustrated, but he stayed confident in the ability of his team.
“We can play with anybody,” he said. “We’ve just got to do a better job of finishing games.” Northwestern will try to get back on track when it hits the road for a Monday matchup with Iowa.