ROSEMONT, IL- The Northwestern Wildcats have had a slow start in conference play so far. On Tuesday night the Wildcats (10-6, 1-2 Big Ten) lost at home to the Nebraska Cornhuskers (11-5, 2-1 Big Ten) by the score of 70-55 thanks to a lackluster second half. Northwestern had a solid 30-25 lead at halftime, but were outscored 45-25 over the final two minutes to give them two losses in their last three games.
Northwestern junior forward Vic Law, junior guard Jordan Ash, and senior forward Gavin Skelly combined for just 13 points (on 4-of-20 shooting), 15 rebounds and four turnovers. Junior center Dererk Pardon led the Cats’ with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Northwestern also got double figure efforts from Sophomore forward Aaron Falzon (11 points) and senior guard Scottie Lindsey (12) but it wasn’t enough.
In the grand scheme of things however it was Nebraska’s defense, especially in the second half that was too much for Northwestern to handle as the Huskers’ held their opponents to 29-percent shooting from the field, 28-percent from the three-point line, held four Wildcat players to two points or less, and set a school record for most blocked shots in a game with 14.
“As a coach your most critical offensively when you don’t score the ball as well,” said Northwestern head coach Chris Collins in his post-game press conference.
Although the Cornhusker offense didn’t really take off until the second half, they wound up making 44-percent of their field goals (24-of-55), 43-percent of their three point shots (7-of-16), and only missed two free throws (15-of-17). They also outscored Northwestern in the paint 34-22, scored 13 points off of 10 Wildcat turnovers, picked up 11 second chance points, and outscored them 6-0 on fast breaks, and 18-13 in bench points.
“I was really proud of our defense for 32 minutes, then the last eight minutes we had some breakdowns,” Collins said.
What’s more disheartening is that the Wildcats offense just doesn’t look as fluid without Bryant McIntosh on the floor. The senior guard is day-to-day after sustaining a knee injury against Brown back on Dec. 30th in a mid-court collision which looked worse than what it turned out to be. But there’s no doubt that Collins’ team wants him back sooner rather than later.
“When you have a guy like Bryant he can break you down, he can play in pick and roll, and that’s obviously a big element of what we do. But you have to play with what you have,” added Collins.
Playing with what they have is what Northwestern does best, but it just didn’t work out against Nebraska.
“Some games shots fall, other games they don’t, sometimes it’s how the ball falls. But we need to do better on defense,” said a disappointed Dererk Pardon afterwards.
There some positives that Northwestern can take from this loss. For starters, this is only the second time that the Wildcats have lost at Allstate Arena this season which is their temporary home while Welsh-Ryan Arena is being remodeled. All other losses were either on the road or on neutral sites.
This is also only the second time that they’ve been held to under 60 points on the 2017-2018 campaign. Northwestern is also off until Friday which will give McIntosh some extra days to recover. On Friday, the Wildcats play their first conference road game of the season when they travel to Penn State.