There must be something about the number 21.
Here’s a fun fact: besides their exhibition win over Lewis and overtime win against Marquette, every Northwestern win has been by a margin of 21 points. Thursday night kept the trend going as the ‘Cats (4-0) took down Valparaiso (1-3) in a 21-point victory at Welsh-Ryan arena in a game that was all Northwestern. The ‘Cats won the opening tip, scored two points on their first possession, and never gave up the lead for the remainder of the game’s 40 minutes.
The Wildcat defense looked strong to start, recording several tipped passes, a block and three steals in the first quarter alone.
The ‘Cats looked solid on the other end of the court, too. Many of their early points came from layups on drives to the basket with several drawn fouls. Seven of Northwestern’s 20 points in the first quarter came from free throws.
Valparaiso hit their threes early, and it’s all that kept them around in the first quarter. They hit four of six from behind the arc, good for 12 of their 15 points in the first 10 minutes. The ‘Cats started the second quarter just as aggressively on defense. On Valpo’s first possession in the quarter, Lindsay Pulliam recorded a fourth steal for the home team.
Northwestern’s strong play on both sides of the ball told the story of the first half. The Crusaders were held to three points in the entire second quarter, and the Wildcats’ offense was firing on all cylinders. Almost every player that saw action in the first half had at least three points. In contrast, no Valparaiso player had more than five points through 20 minutes. The ‘Cats finished the first half with a 35-18 lead, having 11 points off of turnovers and shooting 40% from the floor (12-for-30) and 50% from behind the arc (4-for-8).
Northwestern’s play to start the second half mirrored their first 20 minutes. Scheid hit a short jumper on the first Wildcats possession, and the defense came away with a steal on the other end seconds later. The defense racked up defensive rebounds, and the offense translated these opportunities into points.
All game, Valparaiso tried to use ball movement around the arc to throw off Northwestern’s defense, but the ‘Cats were not fazed. Valpo finished with 20 turnovers, 10 from Wildcat steals. To make matters worse for the visitors, the Crusaders often missed even on open shots, and the Wildcats came down with the rebound almost every time. Through three quarters, Valparaiso had only one offensive rebound.
Coach McKeown has been happy with his players’ self-imposed goal of holding opposing teams to fewer than 50 points, a goal they managed to achieve again tonight.
“As a team, to have that goal defensively… I like how we’re playing defense; I like how we’re practicing, and how we’re communicating,” McKeown said after the game.
The fourth quarter was more of the same. Abi Scheid hit two threes early, the Crusaders were kept scoreless through five minutes, and Northwestern’s defense kept forcing turnovers. As the rest of Northwestern’s offense picked up and continued to buzz, a 19-point lead coming out of the third quarter quickly became a 30-point lead.
The biggest part of Northwestern’s offensive production was senior forward Abi Scheid, totaling 21 points herself, including five three-pointers in the game.
She finished 8-for-11 from the field to pair with her five defensive rebounds.
“That’s the thing about shooters, we don’t really stop shooting,” Scheid said post-game. “But it’s always fun to be on, see your work pay off.”
A 17-7 Valparaiso run in the game’s final five minutes was not enough to overcome their deficit, and the ‘Cats finished the 69-48 win to move to four straight victories to start the season.