Rutgers wins second straight in 61-59 thriller against Northwestern
Riding the momentum from its road victory against Penn State on Super Bowl Sunday, the Rutgers women’s basketball team returned home on Wednesday night and were triumphant in a back-and-forth game against Northwestern.
The Scarlet Knights (15-10, 6-7) defeated the Wildcats (14-11, 3-10) in a 61-59 thriller, marking the first time they have won back-to-back games since the conclusion of their five-game winning streak back in December.
It was a bit of a revenge game for the Knights, who were knocked out of last year’s Big Ten Tournament in the quarterfinals by the Wildcats.
Head coach C. Vivian Stringer made her return to the sidelines after taking a bereavement leave following the passing of her mother and received a strong ovation from the crowd at the Rutgers Athletic Center, who were then treated to the wildest home game of the season.
“I want to thank my team for really standing together … and I thank the fans because this has been an extremely rough month for me,” Stringer said. “I want to get back in the swing of things, and it’s a little easier with this win today.”
Junior guard Tyler Scaife led Rutgers with 24 points, including the game-winning layup with two seconds remaining.
She was followed by senior wing Kahleah Copper, who added 20 points and eight rebounds, and assisted Scaife on a transition layup for the final basket.
In a game that featured 10 ties and six lead changes, the Knights came back in the final minute to outlast the Wildcats in a crucial Big Ten game with both teams jockeying for position in the conference standings.
Rutgers jumped all over Northwestern in the opening of the contest, going on an 8-2 run in the first three minutes.
But the Wildcats responded by finishing the first quarter on a 9-2 run, and they took an 11-10 lead heading into the second period.
Turnovers were key in helping the Wildcats overcome their slow start, as the Knights turned the ball over four times during Northwestern’s run that got it back in the game.
Northwestern continued adding to its lead in the second quarter, holding a 20-14 advantage with 4:45 left in the half.
It was then Rutgers' turn to mount a comeback after taking advantage of Northwestern turnovers.
It went on an 11-0 run, highlighted by a game-tying triple from Scaife and another from Copper to put the Knights ahead 25-20, with little over a minute remaining in the half.
Rutgers led 27-24 heading into the break, shooting 11-for-28 from the field in the opening 20 minutes, while the Wildcats shot 10-for-33.
Copper led the team with 10 points heading into the break, and Scaife was next in line with 7 points.
The senior picked up right where she left off to start the second half, making an and-one after being fouled on a jumper to give the Knights a 32-29 lead with 8:30 left in the quarter.
Like how it was for most of the game, the teams went back-and-forth trading leads throughout the third quarter, and were tied 44-44 heading into the final quarter.
With the Knights trailing 49-48 with 8:00 remaining, Copper hit a huge 3-pointer to put Rutgers back on top 51-49.
But Northwestern countered with a pair of triples of its own, the second coming from guard Maggie Lyon to give the Wildcats a 55-51 lead with 4:14 left in the game.
With Northwestern leading 56-53 in the final minute, Scaife hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 56.
Then on the next possession, Lyon struck again and haunted the Knights by hitting another triple with 28.6 seconds remaining, giving the Wildcats a 59-56 lead.
Senior guard Briyona Canty then unleashed a clutch shot of her own, tying the game at 59 with a trey 11 seconds from the final horn.
Next came the game-winning possession, a total team effort that has been reminiscent of how Rutgers has wanted to play the whole year.
Senior center Rachel Hollivay blocked a shot by Northwestern’s Nia Coffey, and the ball was rebounded by Copper, who then found Scaife in transition for the game-winning layup with two seconds remaining and the Knights emerged victorious, 61-59.
Copper was glad to find Scaife for the final bucket, and was able to remain poised in a very tense final minute.
“It happened so fast,” Copper said. “Rachel got the block, I got the rebound and had my eyes up. Then, I saw and got her the ball and she finished.”
Rutgers finished by shooting 24-for-61 from the field, while Northwestern shot 24-for-65.
Scaife was glad to get a chance to redeem herself after missing a potential game-tying three on the previous possession.
Although she scored the game-winner, Scaife was quick to credit her teammates for setting her up on the play.
“Rachel (Hollivay) made a great play,” Scaife said. “She helped (Kahleah) out by getting the block, then Kah got the rebound and pushed the ball. Those two made the layup easy for me.”