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Rutgers women's basketball earns 5th conference win against Northwestern in Black Excellence Game

Freshman guard Kaylene Smikle helped the Rutgers women's basketball team capture its fifth conference victory over a Big Ten opponent. – Photo by @RutgersWBB / Twitter

The Rutgers women’s basketball team earned its first victory since February 5 with a 62-48 defeat of Northwestern. The Scarlet Knights (11-16, 5-10) led the Wildcats (8-18, 1-14) in fourth quarter points 20-6 on their way to their fifth conference victory of the season.

Northwestern opened up the first quarter in strong fashion with a three-pointer from Sydney Wood, which put the Wildcats up with less than 3 minutes in the opening period. Rutgers answered with four points of its own and trailed Northwestern 14-10 at the end of the first quarter.

Freshman guard Kaylene Smikle was noticeably quiet in the opening quarter, with four missed three-point shots.

The Wildcats jumped out to a 22-12 lead at the 8:23 mark of the second quarter, but the Knights, led by Smikle, were able to answer this time. Down 24-18, Smikle hit a layup, a jumper and a three-pointer to help her team close the gap to 1 point.

When the first half buzzer sounded, Rutgers trailed 30-29 but outscored Northwestern 19-16 in second-quarter points after Smikle’s 9-point second-quarter performance.

The third quarter was more even for both teams, as the Wildcats hit the only two three-pointers of the third period with long-distance shots from Caileigh Walsh and Jillian Brown.

The Knights wouldn’t let their opponent take over. A steal and a layup from Smikle gave Rutgers its first lead since the opening minutes of the first quarter. The score was then tied at 42, which set the stage for the Knights to play their best quarter of basketball in the last week with a stellar fourth-quarter performance.

Senior center Kassondra Brown hit a layup with 5:18 remaining in the final quarter to give Rutgers a 1-point lead. Smikle followed with an open look and a three-point swish at the top of the key to increase the gap to 4 points with a score of 50-46.

From then on, Rutgers would keep up the pressure with multiple steals and finishes to the basket on its way to another Big Ten victory.

Smikle once again led the Knights with a 21-point performance, adding on five steals and seven rebounds. Junior forward Chyna Cornwell scored 8 points and outpaced her teammates with 17 rebounds.

The team secured the win in its Black Excellence Game in honor of Black History Month. In its postgame press, Smikle talked about how special the night was.

"For me, I know I was playing for something other than Rutgers," Smikle said.

Cornwell echoed her sentiments, saying that the game was special in that it was representative of a larger group of people.

"It’s bigger than basketball, so I just came out here just playing for someone who sacrificed a lot for me. It was a lot of people. So like I said, it was bigger than basketball," Cornwell said.

Head coach Coquese Washington said that she was pleased with the team’s defensive intensity in the big fourth quarter.

"We expect every game to be tight. We expect every game to be a battle," Washington said. "The fact that we were in a position to win the game, I think our team gets juiced about that. And we figure out a way to try to pull it out."

Rutgers will head back to the court to take on Wisconsin on the road in Madison, Wisconsin, next Monday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. with the game being broadcasted on the Big Ten Network as well as 88.7 WRSU-FM.

For more updates on the Rutgers women's basketball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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