For the second straight year, Northwestern saw their season end in the first round of the NIT, this time falling at Rhode Island. It was the 'Cats 8th straight road loss, and as usual the problem was that they couldn't get stops. In the 1-3-1 they couldn't force turnovers, and Rhode Island got either open threes or lay-ups, and in the match-up zone they were unable to defend without fouling, leading to a 37-10 free throw advantage for the game. URI shot 48 from the field and 44% from 3-point range, and had only 9 turnovers to NU's 12.
On offense, Northwestern wasn't exactly fantastic either, shooting just 39% from the field and 31% from 3-point range. Michael Thompson led the way with 24 points, but didn't get much help. John Shurna was 5 for 16 from the field, and Drew Crawford was just 4 of 13, although he did have a game high 12 rebounds. Luka Mirkovic did not play due to injury, so Kyle Rowley and Davide Curletti split time at center. Rowley had a decent stat line with 7 points and 8 rebounds in 23 minutes, but had trouble on defense due to his lack of speed. Curletti fouled out in 15 minutes and didn't do much with just 2 points and 1 rebound. And in his final game, Jeremy Nash struggled with just 4 points and 4 turnovers.
Rhode Island is a solid team, and there's no shame in losing to them in their own building, but this was still a disappointing loss. The 'Cats hung in for most of the second half, but could never quite get over the hump, and again it was because they just can't stop the other team from scoring. Defense has to be the priority this off-season. An offense involving Coble, Shurna, Thompson and Crawford is going to score in whatever system you choose, but it's highly questionable how well they can play defense, and if they can't get stops, they're not making the NCAA tournament.
I made the trip to the game, and I enjoyed my experience there. The Ryan Center is a nice facility, and the seats are so close to the court that it could get really loud when sold out. The crowd last night was definitely sparse though, so things didn't get very loud. There was also a fair amount of purple; I met one NU fan who'd taken a train from New York to get there.
I'll be back later this week for more end of season analysis.