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Northwestern 63, IUPUI 61: Rapid Reaction

Jershon Cobb’s runner in the lane with 2.3 seconds remaining kissed off the front rim, rebounded off the backboard, and dropped through the net, giving Northwestern a 63-61 win over IUPUI on Friday night. But the outcome shouldn’t make anybody forget what was a very below average performance from the Wildcats. Here are some quick reactions:

-  Basketball, especially the college game, at times can be a game of will. It can be one that is entirely dictated by the intensity with which a team plays. These past three games for Northwestern have been a perfect example of just that.

As they did last Sunday night against Illinois State, the Wildcats came out flat. They didn’t play exceedingly poorly, but their play was devoid of any inspiration whatsoever. Collins substituted with regularity in an attempt to find a lineup that could make a run, but Northwestern couldn’t get anything going. The second half story wasn’t much different, until the stretch run.

The difference between tonight and Wednesday night? The play of Dave Sobolewski was one, but it was an insignificant difference compared to deficiencies in the Wildcat’s mentality compared to Wednesday. The fact that it didn’t get loud in Welsh-Ryan Arena until the clock showed a minute remaining isn’t a valid excuse. The tempo at which they played was leisurely, their focus seemed to wane for prolonged periods, and even when somebody would make an individual play to seemingly swing momentum, the rest of the team wouldn’t respond.

It wasn’t until a big Tre Demps three that the Cats finally got into the game mentally. That was the turning point, but all it does is mask the problem. Northwestern isn’t a good enough team to take any opponent for granted and expect to consistently recover in time to win games.

-  Drew Crawford didn’t score a single point in the first half. Without his contributions in that department, the Northwestern offense looked stagnant. The need to find a consistent #2 scorer has ben widely discussed early in this season, but tonight, NU didn’t even have a #1 scorer.

Dave Sobolewski returned to his pre-UIC form, JerShon Cobb looked downright inept at times, and other than a rare three-pointer from Kale Abrahamson or Nathan Taphorn, Northwestern struggled to find the bottom of the net.

Part of this also had to do with a lack of transition opportunities. At UIC, the Wildcats pushed the ball at every opportunity. This led to easy looks at the rim, and maybe even more importantly, a newfound confidence for the beneficiaries of those easy looks. Friday night (tonight), there was none of that.

-  Sanjay Lumpkin was Northwestern’s best player in the first half. In a span of 23 seconds early in the second half though, he picked up three fouls – his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of the game – that effectively took him out of the game until there were less than 3 minutes remaining.

You can chalk that up to inexperience if you want, or label it as a classic Freshman mistake, but regardless, it’s something Lumpkin has to learn from. One of the three was a technical, which makes it even worse. Lumpkin has to understand that he’s one of Northwestern’s most important players – arguably 2nd most important to Crawford – and thus it’s imperative that he plays major minutes every game.

-  During the second half comeback, Northwestern went to a 3/4–court press which in the half court morphed back into a 2-3 zone. This threw off IUPUI’s rhythm, which in turn took the pressure of the Wildcats to score every time down the floor. NU didn’t play particularly better in the second half on the offensive end, but they finally were able to string together defensive stops. This was what triggered their change in fortunes and allowed them to pull the game out in the end.