The Northwestern Tigers opened the regional playoffs with a 60-48 victory at home against the Cameron Comets on Friday, Feb. 12.

The game wasn’t as close as the score would suggest.

In the first half, Northwestern kept turning the ratchet its way, and only its way. The Tigers led by 18 at halftime after a late 9-0 run, but otherwise methodically built a lead minute by minute, answering Cameron’s baskets with one or two of their own.

Many of the Tigers’ points came in transition, fueled by Cameron’s 11 first-half turnovers.

Our offense feeds off of our defense, so we try to create some turnovers and get out and run,” said Northwestern coach Paul Eberhardt. “It was good for us to be able to do that and push tempo a little bit to get some easy layups.”

Newsletter signup for email alerts

“We struggle with (turnovers) a little bit with pressure in our face,” said Cameron coach Kim Weber. “(Coach Eberhardt) has some good, solid players and a good program.

“Number one gives us trouble,” she added.

“Number one” would be sophomore guard Tieryn Plasch, who was also the evening’s number-one scorer with 21 points, including five 3-pointers. She added an impressive display of passing on the Tigers’ fast break.

“Point-wise, she’s the leading scorer in the conference, but she also leads the conference in assists, so it’s not like she can just score,” Eberhardt said of Plasch. “I thought she did a really good job defensively against Maddy Wall, who’s a good player. She did a nice job tonight.”

Wall and Eden Dellinger, both juniors, co-led the Comets with 13 points apiece.

Northwestern’s Kendall Sletten (34) brings the ball up the floor during a game in Maple earlier this season. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Northwestern’s Kendall Sletten (34) brings the ball up the floor during a game in Maple earlier this season. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Northwestern broke the game open early in the second half. Cameron turned the ball over on its first possession, and the Tigers pounced, going on a 14-0 run that lasted about five minutes. After the lead stayed at 30-plus points for a few minutes near the middle of the half, the game appeared to be in hand.

But the Comets wouldn’t relent, showing a positively gritty performance down the homestretch. Cameron kept attacking the basket, eventually drawing enough fouls to reach the double bonus. They shot 23 free throws in the half.

“This team really has a lot of heart,” Weber said. “They never give up. We’ve been through a lot with injuries, quarantine, and COVID — which I’m sure every team has — but I’m really proud how they always battle it out until the end.”

With about two minutes remaining, the Comets had whittled the lead down to 20 points, albeit mostly against players from Northwestern’s bench. They finished the game on a 16-point run, mostly on free throws, to close the final margin to a deceivingly small 12 points.

Even if the game was never really in doubt, the Comets’ persistence created some tension for the Tigers and their masked fans, especially after a series of turnovers late in the game.

“We didn’t take care of the ball nearly as well as I had hoped,” Eberhardt admitted. “All in all, it’s a win in the playoffs, and we’ll take it. We’ll embrace it and move on.”

Northwestern heads to Barron Saturday night for the regional championship game against the Bears.

Cameron 14-34 – 48

Northwestern 32-28 – 60

Cameron – Madison Wall 13, Eden Dellinger 13, Isabelle Thompson 7, Taylor Severt 6, Alyssa Kuffel 8, Carly Lynch 1. Totals 13 19-33 48.

3-point goals – Wall 2, Thompson.

Northwestern – Tieryn Plasch 21, Gabby Risley 2, Brynn Erickson 8, Ella Brill 2, Anna Fouts 5, Gracie Altman 6, Allison Luoma 12, Kendall Sletten 4. Totals 24 7-17 60.

3-point goals – Plasch 5.