During a season of bad luck and disappointment, the stars seemed to finally be aligning for the Northwestern women's basketball Wednesday night in New Jersey. The 'Cats were just 28.6 seconds away from grabbing a rare conference win. But sloppy execution doomed NU (14-11, 3-10 B1G) in crunch time, and Rutgers (15-10, 6-7 B1G) escaped with a 61-59 home win on a lay-up with two seconds left.
It was a pretty low scoring game for the majority of the first half, particularly in the first quarter. Rutgers jumped out to an 8-4 lead, but the 'Cats took advantage of some sloppy ball handling and ended the quarter on a 7-2 run to take an 11-10 lead through one quarter. The scoring picked up marginally in the second quarter, and NU led 20-14 for almost three minutes before the Scarlet Knights pulled off a 13-4 run to take a 27-24 lead to the locker room at halftime.
The third quarter was a back-and-forth slugfest, and NU and RU headed to the fourth quarter tied at 44. Ashley Deary scored all seven of her points in the quarter and finished with a well rounded six-assist and five-rebound performance.
Rutgers led for the first half of the final quarter of play, but the 'Cats clawed back, using a Nia Coffey three-pointer to take a 52-51 lead. NU did not trail again ... until the final seconds.
Leading 56-51 with 2:08 left, theoretically all the 'Cats needed to do to win was bury a shot or two and get a few rebounds. The Scarlet Knights tied it at 56 on a Tyler Scaife three-pointer with 42 seconds remaining, but Lyon immediately responded with a corner three to put NU ahead once again, 59-56 with 28.6 seconds showing on the clock. Now all they needed to do was force a miss and grab a rebound.
Unfortunately for the 'Cats, they could only achieve one of those goals. Scaife missed an uncontested three with 14 seconds left, but Briyona Canty grabbed the rebound, took it out to the top of the key and drained an equalizer. It was 59-59 with 11 seconds left. Obviously this wasn't ideal for Northwestern, but at least they would (theoretically) get a chance to beat the buzzer and steal a win.
But again, NU was unable to execute. Coffey, who finished with 19 points to tie Lyon for the team lead, had a decent look at a lay-up, but had it blocked from behind by RU's Rachel Hollivay. Scaife, who led all scorers with 24 points, got the ball off the rebound and drove the length of the court basically all by herself for the game-winning lay-up with just a little over two seconds remaining. Lyon's desperation heave at the buzzer was well off the mark, and Rutgers, on the strength of a shocking 10-3 run, had dealt NU possibly its most heartbreaking loss of the season.
At 3-10 in B1G play, Northwestern, once ranked twelfth in the country, is 13th in the conference standings. It doesn't get any easier for the 'Cats, as the No. 5 Maryland Terrapins roll into Evanston on Sunday for a 3 p.m. tipoff.
Editor's note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Rutgers' Kahleah Copper hit the game-tying three-pointer with eleven seconds later. It was actually Briyona Canty. NBN regrets the error.