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Northwestern ends two-game skid, tops Baylor 74-70

By Steven Goldstein (@StevenGoldfish)

With a bevy of criticisms coming after consecutive non-conference losses, the Wildcats pulled off an upset and bolstered their NCAA Tournament portfolio, beating the Baylor Bears by a 74-70 final Tuesday.

The ‘Cats shot 50 percent from the field and significantly out-rebounded the Bears. Senior forward Drew Crawford lead the way with 19 points, while all five Northwestern starters turned out double-digit scoring.

Improving to 7-2, the Wildcats avenge a 28-point beatdown from Baylor last season and scoop up a signature win as Big Ten play rolls in. Check out the good, the bad and what’s coming up next for NU.

The good: senior stars

Northwestern’s senior standouts paved the way Tuesday, with swingman Drew Crawford notching 19 points and forward Reggie Hearn adding 17. Hearn lead the ‘Cats with 10 total boards, while Crawford scooped up three offensive rebounds and drained two from behind the arc.

Although newcomers Jared Swopshire, Alex Olah and Kale Abrahamson have yet to fully transition, Northwestern saw some reassuring performances from its stars. Crawford and Hearn looked sharp on D, crashed the glass all night, and paced the Princeton offense.

The bad: fouls and turnovers

After establishing a healthy lead midway through the second half, the Wildcats nearly collapsed with sloppy play down the stretch. Northwestern was charged with a whopping 14 turnovers, three coming in the game’s final minute.

Hearn fouled out with over 2:30 to play, while Olah, Swopshire and sophomore one-guard Dave Sobolewski each racked up four personals.

While the Wildcats controlled the perimeter and worked the baseline for most of the night, inefficiency made this game much closer than it should have been.

Stat of the night: Northwestern’s 62.1 percent on free throws

Northwestern’s troubles at the charity stripe were unavoidable Tuesday. The ‘Cats shot a paltry 62.1 percent from the foul line, while Sobolewski missed three consecutive free throws in the game’s closing two minutes.

Northwestern’s speedy style of play leads to plenty of foul shot opportunities, but the ‘Cats have flopped on free throws for much of this season. Three Wildcats starters shot 50 percent or under from the stripe in this one.

Up next: Butler

The Wildcats will look for another marquee non-conference win on Saturday, when Northwestern hosts Butler at Welsh-Ryan Arena. At 5-2, the Bulldogs sit atop the Atlantic 10 Conference and knocked off then-No. 9 North Carolina back on November 20th.

Butler’s yet to find its stride offensively, ranking just 126th in the nation in total scoring. Senior guard Rotnei Clarke leads the team with 18 points per game after sitting out 2011-12 as a transfer from Arkansas.

Northwestern pulls into the middle of the Big Ten standings with Tuesday’s win. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the ‘Cats deserve some serious credit for sealing the lanes, staying physical and beating Baylor at its own game.