Spartans blanked again in rematch vs. Northwestern

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Nia Clouden/MSU Athletic Communications

Nathan Stearns, Women's Basketball/Field Hockey Beat Reporter

EVANSTON, Ill. — The Michigan State Spartans traveled to Northwestern on Monday looking to snap a four-game losing streak that ironically started at the hands of the Wildcats on Jan. 23 in East Lansing. MSU came into that contest as winners of its last three, however Northwestern controlled the entirety of the game and escaped East Lansing with a wire-to-wire 76-48 victory.  

Unfortunately for the Spartans, the second act of the season series featured more of the same, as the Wildcats easily disposed of Michigan State by a final score of 85-55. The star-studded pair of Lindsey Pulliam and Veronica Burton combined for 54 points in the Northwestern rout. 

“Pulliam is a big time player,” said Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant. “I thought we were going to do a better job today of denying her the ball a little bit, but she did whatever she wanted to us, which was very disappointing.”

The Wildcats were without coach Joe McKeown, who missed the contest because of illness. 

“I just love the effort of these girls and this team,” said Northwestern interim coach Kate Popovec. “One of the emphases of our team this season has been resiliency and overcoming adversity and our girls never flinched.”

MSU received some good news on the injury front during warmups, as Tory Ozment returned from a brief two-game hiatus that was caused by a concussion sustained against Purdue. 

After exiting the Maryland game early with a lower leg injury, Taryn McCutcheon was also deemed fit to play.

McCutcheon would get the Spartans off to a quick start on offense, as she drained two consecutive 3-pointers to give MSU an early 6-0 lead. Turnovers would bury whatever little offensive momentum the Green and White had, as the Spartans doled out eight first quarter turnovers. 

“In that zone that they play, we turned the ball over way too much,” said McCutcheon. “Once they got on a run, we didn’t get the same looks and we didn’t get the same stops that we were getting in the beginning of the game.”  

Northwestern’s Burton, who had 22 points in the first meeting between these two teams, continued her recent strong stretch of play with nine first quarter points. Her strong early offensive performance gave Northwestern a 24-14 lead at the end of one. 

It was Pulliam’s turn to get in on the fun in the second quarter. Pulliam, who came into the contest averaging 19.2 points, notched 18 first half points, including seven free throws. Her strong performance, combined with an inconsistent Spartan offensive performance catapulted the Wildcats to a 47-28 lead at halftime. 

MSU only mustered a meager 33% field goal percentage in the first half. Nia Clouden’s recent struggles also continued, as she went 2-for-9 from the floor in the opening frame of action.

The third quarter featured more of the same from Burton and Pulliam, as both players reached the 20-point plateau by the end of the third. Pulliam in particular had a strong third quarter with 10 points that brought her to 28. MSU’s offensive woes contined and at the end of three, the Spartans found themselves down by a crooked 66-36 margin.

“Our problem right now is that we can’t make an absence,” said Merchant. “People are wide open and they can’t make baskets. You are not going to beat anybody missing 75% of your shots.”

The Wildcats would hold serve in the final frame and register their 20th win of the season by a final score of 85-55. Burton was able to notch a double-double, as she finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Pulliam finished with 31 points.

“Over the course of the season, I have been looking to get more downhill,” said Burton. “Over the course of the season, my teammates emphasized that I am a 3-point shooter, so I just have to have confidence in it on the court.”

With the loss, MSU falls to 11-12 and 4-8 in Big Ten action on the season. The Spartans will be looking to snap their five-game skid when they welcome Rutgers to the Breslin this Thursday at 7 p.m. Rutgers will be looking to avenge a 66-55 loss suffered at the hands of the Green and White on Jan. 20.

Nathan Stearns is a women’s basketball and field hockey beat reporter for Impact 89FM WDBM. Follow him on Twitter at @NathanStearns11.