Senior guard Lindsey Pulliam (center) celebrates with her teammates. Pulliam, the Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, scored 18 points in her season debut. Photo courtesy of Northwestern Athletics

After almost nine months without live game action, Northwestern women’s basketball (1-0, 0-0 B1G) finally started their 2020-21 season with a 93-57 win over Eastern Illinois (2-3, 0-0 OVC) in a dominant effort.

“It was really, really great to play tonight,” Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said. “Last time we played on this court was in February, and we won a Big Ten Championship. For the players to get back and play college basketball was really a lot of fun.”

All five starters scored double-digits, with junior guard Veronica Burton leading the way with 21 points. Senior Lindsey Pulliam was not far behind with 18 points, adding six rebounds, two assists and two steals. Juniors Sydney Wood and Courtney Shaw contributed 14 and 13 points, respectively, and senior Jordan Hamilton put up 11 points.

“It shows the things we preach every day and shows how unselfish we are,” McKeown said. “What I love about our team is that our players love to involve each other, and it’s fun when you share the ball.”

Eastern Illinois kept the first quarter close, and they shot 63% of the field and 67% from three within the 10 minutes. Led by Pulliam and Burton, the ’Cats put up 27 points and played stellar defense to close the quarter with an 11-point lead. Pulliam finished the quarter with 11 points, shooting four-of-five from the field.

Northwestern came out firing to start the second quarter and went on a 14-0 run to extend their lead to 41-16. Entering a new role this season as a starter, Shaw played one of the best games of her career. In less than three minutes, Shaw scored eight points, had five rebounds, three of which were offensive rebounds, and recorded two blocks. She finished the half with 13 points and shot six-of-seven.

“She did an amazing job, gave us great minutes tonight, did all the little things that we needed," Pulliam said of Shaw. "She played strong defense, rebounded, posted hard, and she did a heck of a job on defense for us, taking their big kid out. She made a great debut as a starter today."

The ’Cats continued their excellent defense from the first quarter, not allowing Eastern Illinois to score a point until there was 4:36 left in the half. Northwestern forced 16 turnovers in the first half, 10 of which came from the second quarter. The Wildcats finished strong and only allowed six points in the quarter, ending the half leading 53-22.

In a slow third quarter, Burton shined. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year took over the game, scoring nine points and had three steals in eight minutes. Burton and Wood would ultimately end the game with 10 steals combined.

When asked about her third quarter performance, Burton said, “I had a lot of easy buckets and scored some transition points with the help of my teammates. Throughout the game, we were having fun and being unselfish, and it was just great to be back out there.”

Coach McKeown spoke highly of Burton’s play.

“She has maturity beyond her years – her basketball IQ is off the charts," he said. "She showed us last year why she was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and she’s right back where she was. She anticipates everything that will happen before it does and has earned everything.”

Freshman Paige Mott helped close out the third quarter on a 7-0 run, giving Northwestern a comfortable 68-34 lead. The ’Cats scored 25 points in the fourth quarter to seal the victory, ending the game with a score of 93-57.

Northwestern will start Big Ten play next week in Evanston against the Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-2, 0-1 B1G).

Junior guard Veronica Burton goes for the tough shot. Burton led all scorers with 21 points in a fantastic open to the season. Photo courtesy of Northwestern Athletics