"I just thought that last minute and a half, the way we closed it out, just took away some of the momentum that we had," said NU head coach Joe McKeown. "You battle back, but you're playing down double digits."
The story of the game was the team's 22 turnovers, 14 of which came in the first half. They made it hard for the ‘Cats to get on any sort of prolonged run. This was Northwestern's third straight loss and the team's third straight game losing the turnover margin by five or more.
"We just have to take care of the ball better," forward Dannielle Diamant said. "Like I said after [the Michigan game] when we had 18 turnovers in the first half, we had 14 this game [in the first half], so obviously that's not acceptable and we really have to work on that."
McKeown said the team's focus defensively was shutting down Purdue guard Brittany Rayburn, who averages 14.8 points per game for the Boilermakers. The ‘Cats were successful and Rayburn shot 0-12 from the floor, but Purdue's other starting guards, Courtney Moses and KK Houser stepped up and scored 29 and 12 points, respectively.
The bright spot of the NU team was the forwards. Diamant had her third double-double of the year with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Most of the Wildcats' success — apart from a few big three pointers scattered throughout the game — came from inside.
And fellow junior forward Kendall Hackney scored her 1,000th point early in the contest. She finished the game with 13 points and eight rebounds.
"It's an honor to be in that position and to have teammates who were able to put me there," she said. "So it's a blessing to be able to have that happen tonight, but I really wanted that win and we all did."
NU showed signs of life at various points throughout the second half. The ‘Cats even cut the deficit to six with 58 seconds remaining but were unable to come back.
"We never gave up. I never thought it was over," Hackney said. "I don't think the whole team did either and that was really something special and I felt it."
The freshman starters, guards Morgan Jones and Karly Roser, both struggled against the Boilermakers. Jones shot 3-16 from the field and Roser turned the ball over seven times.
"Karly and Morgan, they're learning on the fly," McKeown said. "You're playing against players that were in the NCAA tournament last year. Moses, Houser, those guys have been around a long time."
The loss exposed and underscored the weaknesses that have steered NU to a 2-7 record in the Big Ten. Turnovers have clearly been a big part of that, as has shot selection. As a whole, the team shot just 39.1 percent on the night and 25 percent from beyond the arc. Even from the line, the ‘Cats were only a collective 68.2 percent.
It really means something then, that even with these faults, so many of the Wildcats' games thus far have been so close. McKeown takes this as a positive and hopes to build off of it.
"You have to take the positives out of this game," he said. "Tonight we showed a lot of heart. Hopefully that will translate into Ws"
The ‘Cats can try to regroup against Indiana Sunday. The Hoosiers currently sit at the bottom of the Big Ten rankings, having not yet won a game against a conference opponent. That game will tipoff at 2 p.m. CT and transition the team into the final stretch of the season in February.
"As we get into February, I really feel like we can be a really dangerous team," McKeown said. "We just got to put some things together."