It didn’t even take Nia Coffey 14 minutes to record a double-double. It took nearly 13 minutes for Penn State’s Teniya Page to record a single point. Nice, you’re thinking, so Northwestern definitely beat Penn State, right?
Not even a super performance from Nia Coffey on Super Bowl Sunday could lift the Wildcats to a win, as Penn State (15-8, 5-6 B1G) emerged from Evanston with a 74-58 win over Northwestern (17-6, 6-4 B1G). Coffey scored 28 points, her second-most in a game this season, and tacked on 17 rebounds, her most in a game this season. She added a block, a steal, and an assist, but it just wasn’t enough to get Joe McKeown his first-ever win against Penn State – in 21 games against the Nittany Lions, the veteran coach has zero wins, a trend that continued on Sunday in Evanston.
“I thought she [Nia] came out ready to play,” said McKeown. “She was really aggressive, hit shots, got to the glass, got out in transition. That’s who she is. We’ve just got to do a better job of playing off her at times. But she played really hard today and I was really proud of her.”
Decked out in pink uniforms in honor of Kay Yow, whom McKeown called a “pioneer,” “role model,” and “a great friend,” Northwestern struck first on a layup by Ashley Deary. In the first four minutes of the match, Deary tallied two points, two assists, and a steal - but after accumulating two fouls, she had to sit for the final three minutes of the period. Coffey needed only seven minutes to pick up 10 points - she added six boards before the end of the period. Page had zero points for Penn State, but her team still led 17-15 at the break.
Page still had no points until 7:23 left in the half, when she was fouled in the process of shooting a three. The basket didn’t go in, but all three of her free throws did, and Penn State had a 20-16 lead and had its best player finally off and running. But Northwestern responded with a 12-2 run, spearheaded by three-pointers from Deary and Lydia Rohde, and the Wildcats grabbed a 28-24 lead with under three to go. Then Penn State scored the next seven points to move back ahead before Coffey ended the period with a perfect Hail Mary pass to Deary, who scooped in the layup to get Northwestern within 31-30 at the half.
The was no divisive halftime show at Welsh-Ryan, but Northwestern didn’t exactly provide too many fireworks in the second half. Sierra Moore scored the first bucket of the half, but Northwestern responded with scores from Coffey and Amber Jamison to take a 34-33 lead with 8:05 to go. The Wildcats wouldn’t lead again. Penn State scored six points in under a minute as part of a 19-6 run to close out the period. Led by seven points from Page and five from Peyton Whitted, the Nittany Lions roared out to a 52-40 lead at period’s end. Northwestern failed to score a field goal in the final five minutes of the frame.
Penn State had three players with four fouls with nine minutes to play. It didn’t matter. Six different Nittany Lions scored in the fourth quarter, and the team combined to hit six free throws in the period to ice the 74-58 win.
“End of the third quarter we had some mishaps, some breakdowns on defense, and Penn State took advantage of it,” said McKeown. “We got a little ahead of ourselves trying to catch up, and they made us pay.”
Teniya Page didn’t have any points for 13 minutes. She finished with 18 points, eight assists and four rebounds. The normally sure-shooter went just 5-14 from the floor, but she was picked up considerably by her teammates – four other Nittany Lions scored in double figures, and the team shot nearly 46 percent from the floor. Penn State owned the defensive glass, and out-rebounded Northwestern 42-36 overall.
It’s possible that there will be some missed field goals in the Super Bowl. The Wildcats certainly know a bit about those – they actually attempted as many shots as Penn State, but missed seven more, resulting in a field goal percentage of just under 34 percent. And while Penn State provided a real team effort, Northwestern’s offense consisted of a lot of Coffey, some Deary, and not much else. The two seniors combined for 33 of Northwestern’s 59 shot attempts, and 40 of its 58 points. Deary added two boards, six steals and five assists to her 12 points, though her three turnovers probably didn’t help her passer rating. Ultimately, it was clear that the ‘Cats were missing Christen Inman, their second-leading scorer, who got banged up late in Northwestern’s win over Wisconsin on Wednesday.
“It’s no secret, Christen Inman is one of the best players in the Big Ten,” said McKeown. “We missed her today. We’ve got to get healthy for us to be good, and I know we can be.”
The coach said they need this week to get healthy because his team is in a position to make a late-season run. But the Wildcats will surely need a healthy Inman and a more healthy Rohde in order to go on that run. They’ll have a few days off before they begin a stretch of three road games in Indiana on Saturday.