EVANSTON, Ill. — If Northwestern’s game against Purdue on Saturday ended at halftime, the Wildcats’ 43 points would have been on par with their offensive output over the past two games. Following losses at Nebraska and Michigan – games in which it scored 49 and 46 points respectively – NU came out firing against Purdue with a 12-point run to start the game.
“I always think you have to have a good start away from home,” Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody said, “but you have to have a good start at home, too. I felt the shots we got were good shots that we can make.”
The offensive explosion continued throughout Northwestern’s 75-60 win. Guard Reggie Hearn posted a career-high 26 points, with 21 of his points coming in the first half. Hearn was a perfect 9-9 from the field until he missed a three with just over a minute left in the half.
“I don’t know if there’s ever been a time when I felt that good for an entire half,” Hearn, a senior, said. “From the get go…we knew they were going to have [Purdue centers A.J.] Hammons and [Travis] Carroll drop off on the ball screens. So we were practicing that pull-up jumper and I got my first one [and] second one to go in and after that you kind of get in a groove. It’s really good to see your first shot go in and that really helped me in the first-half.”
Hearn, Northwestern’s leading scorer with 14.2 ppg, scored a combined 13 points in the Wildcats’ back-to-back losses earlier this week. During the stretch, Carmody spoke to Hearn in an effort to make him feel more confident.
“I said, ‘Just go out there and play. You don’t even have to listen to me. Just do what you do and that’s good enough.’ And he did that today, the not listening part… [Hearn]’s a thoughtful guy. Sometimes smart guys think a little too much and you just got to go out there and do what you’ve worked hard on for a long time,” Carmody said.
Hearn was one of four Wildcats in double figures during the game.
“We certainly executed very well,” Carmody said. “There wasn’t any tension in our offense, that’s how I would think about it. There was a nice flow to it.”
Northwestern shot 53.1 percent (26-49) from the floor during the game, a huge jump from the 32.1 percent and 37.3 percent shooting against Nebraska and Michigan. The Wildcats' 75 points was their highest total since an 80-53 win over Fairleigh Dickinson on Nov. 18. The biggest reason, according to guard Dave Sobolewski, was an adjustment to allowing the offense to play faster.
“We weren’t trying to slow it down as much as we had been in the past couple of games. I think the coaching staff saw that we weren’t scoring enough points. They wanted to let us get out and go a little bit against Purdue and at home,” Sobolewski said.
Purdue coach Matt Painter knew the consequences if Northwestern’s offense began to click. The constant cutting and misdirection, Painter said, already creates problems for defenders, but combined with shooting a high percentage from three-point range, Northwestern becomes even more difficult to stop.
“It’s pick-your-poison type stuff,” Painter said. “They weren’t just getting the back-doors or the threes, they were getting both of them… I’ve always said this about Northwestern: If you can’t defend them, it’s like having a flashing light on top of your head while you’re out there playing and [Northwestern] just picks on you… When you’ve got four or five guys out there with flashing lights, [playing defense] is a difficult thing.”