In the grand scheme of things, Thursday night’s 75-44 loss to the Michigan State Spartans didn’t matter much in the long-standing implications for the Northwestern women’s basketball team. Sitting at 4-10 in the Big Ten and coming into the game with a football-esque six-game losing streak in the conference, the ‘Cats had little more to play for than perhaps ensuring they’d head into March’s Big Ten Tournament on a high note.
But that’s only how it appeared on paper. Thursday night’s game also represented the final opportunity for senior captains Meghan McKeown and La’Terria Taylor to showcase their talents to the Welsh-Ryan faithful before the culmination of their time at Northwestern.
McKeown and Taylor each started for the first time in their NU careers on Thursday night, and they certainly made the most of it. They each hit their first shots of the night, including an early three from McKeown, and Taylor threw in two steals as well.
“It meant a lot to be out on the floor with my team tonight,” Taylor said. “It felt good to just go out there and play for fun and enjoy the game I love so much.”
The ‘Cats capitalized on Michigan State’s sloppy start, jumping out to a 16-8 lead thanks to four Spartans turnovers within the first five minutes. In fact, nine of Northwestern’s first 11 points came off takeaways. The hot start didn’t last long, however. Head coach Joe McKeown took out his two seniors with 11:47 left in the first half, at which point Michigan State went on an 18-2 run, giving them a 30-21 lead heading into halftime.
The turnaround wasn’t particularly surprising, as Michigan State came into the game leading the Big Ten in scoring defense; they certainly left that way. After allowing the ‘Cats to jump out to an early lead, the Spartans’ defense stifled just about every Wildcat attack, leading to a slew of forced attempts by the ‘Cats.
The stat sheet reflected as much, as Nia Coffey and Maggie Lyon, Northwestern’s two leading scorers, combined to start the game 0-for-11, and the ‘Cats overall went on a 2-0f-20 shooting stretch to end the first half.
“I’m excited for them to bounce back Sunday,” McKeown said in reference to Coffey, Lyon and Lauren Douglas, who also had a tough shooting night. “They’re terrific players, and tonight was one of those nights where nothing went in.”
Coffey had a particularly tough game, missing her first eight field goals as she was repeatedly stuffed inside by Annalise Pickrel and Becca Mills, Michigan State’s imposing forwards.
The Spartans also held a decidedly one-sided rebounding edge: 54 to 38, including four offensive rebounds each from Mills and guard Aerial Powers. The list of struggles seemed never ending for the ‘Cats; their 27.9 shooting percentage and their 7-of-19 performance from the line are two of many. They were also outscored 38-28 in the paint.
“We had a hard time stopping Michigan State from getting to the rim,” McKeown said. “When you’re having trouble scoring, you’ve got to make free throws. We just struggled.”
In short, not a whole lot went right for Northwestern, and it paid the price by losing its seventh straight game in the Big Ten. But while the Wildcats’ losing effort might have stung a bit, it didn’t do much to diminish the careers of McKeown and Taylor. The two seniors had an impact on the team that went beyond simply putting up numbers on the court.
Indeed, for Taylor to even appear on the court was no small feat. She missed each of her first two seasons at Northwestern due to a series of injuries, but her hard work and dedication to the game of basketball allowed her to make it back onto the court.
“I love the game,” Taylor said in an interview with NU Sports prior to Thursday night’s game. “I’ve been playing basketball since I was seven. I just really appreciate where basketball has brought me…[The game] has always taught me a lot of things off the court that I think I would have never learned if I had never played the game.”
Taylor’s fellow senior had plenty of praise for her perseverance and constantly positive attitude.
“La’Terria Taylor is a fighter and a warrior,” Meghan McKeown said, also in an interview with NU Sports. “She’s been such an inspiration the past four years. All she does is keep her head up, has a great attitude, has never complained about anything that’s thrown her way…I look up to her and admire everything that she does.”
McKeown has dealt with a few injuries of her own, including a season-ending hip injury she suffered just three games into her junior season. However, she came back strong to average a career high in points and assists this season.
“There’s not very many daughters that get to play for their dads,” McKeown said after the game. “So the fact that I’ve gotten to at such a high level has been a really special thing. These four years have been a roller coaster, but it’s been the best decision I ever made.”
Even after the tough loss, Meghan’s father had only positive things to say about his two senior leaders.
“I can’t even tell you how proud I am of those two,” McKeown said. “They just made our program so much better by who they are every day. With the leadership they’ve given us, as hard as tonight was, when I reflect back on that, we just feel very lucky as a coaching staff, I feel very lucky as a head coach.”