People will dissect this game in many ways, from many angles, with many opinions and observations. There were many standout plays – none bigger than Drew Crawford’s block to seal the win – and many questionable ones. And while it was by no means a perfect game – far from it actually – that was one heck of a win.
Beating Illinois and Indiana might look better on paper, but this is Chris Collins’ biggest win yet as Northwestern head coach. “It was Big Ten basketball at it’s finest," Collins said after the game. Here are several reactions:
- Clutch Defense – Between the 12:54 mark and the 46.5 second mark of the second half, Purdue scored just seven points. That made up for a forlorn offensive display, and kept the Wildcats in the game. And when it mattered most, with Purdue holding out for the last shot of regulation, Northwestern bore down and got one of the biggest stops of their season to send the game to overtime. The trend then continued into overtime, and then double-overtime. With the win within grasp on the final possession, the Wildcats got not one, but two massive stops to secure the victory.
- Slow Start – Northwestern began the game a bit sluggishly. Collins' players were a split-second late on closeouts, a stark contrast from previous games, when their closeouts were exemplary. And the offense was, well… it was what Northwestern’s offense has been for most of this season: ineffective. But on the defensive end, the Wildcat’s really stepped up after halftime and locked down a Purdue team that does possess some potent offensive options.
- Transition Defense – One of the staples of Northwestern’s success against Illinois and Indiana was its transition defense. In the two wins, not only did NU limit its opponent’s fast break points, it limited transition opportunities altogether. On Tuesday, in part due to offensive struggles, Purdue was able to get out in the open court, but the Wildcats got back to stymie those opportunities very well. Ever since Northwestern struggled with transition defense early in the year, Collins has made it a major point of emphasis, and the results are showing.
- Three Point Shooting – 4-24… 4 for 24… I was ready to write that “you can’t win games when you shoot 4-24 from beyond the arc,” but apparently you can. However, that doesn’t mean the long range struggles aren’t concerning. As our Josh Rosenblat pointed out on Twitter, at one point during the second half, Northwestern ran three straight sets that resulted in open three point attempts for Kale Abrahamson (twice) and Tre Demps; all three, however, were missed. Tuesday night, a sluggish offense wasn’t the problem, the end product was the problem. This offense is gradually taking shape, but maybe it just doesn’t have the players to be successful.
- The Big Three? – Demps, Crawford, and JerShon Cobb all made huge plays down the stretch. Each took their turn to rise to the occasion. And overall, they scored 53 of Northwestern’s 63 points. There’s two potential narratives here, but let’s go with the positive one: at the season’s onset, the worry was that NU only had one consistent scorer, Crawford. And while it's an overreaction to say it now has three consistent scorers, it certainly has three players on whom Collins can count to create offense.
- Olah – Alex Olah took a step backwards Tuesday after multiple steps forward. He couldn’t get anything out of Purdue center A.J. Hammons. Hammons dominated the matchup. As the Wildcats have done recently, they went to Olah early and often, but he couldn’t create any space for himself. Multiple times he went to his hook shot only to find Hammons right in his path. The one positive was that he stayed aggressive, but he fouled out with just four points to his name.
- Students – NU beat Purdue on the court, and NU students won off the court as well. After a fatal shooting in West Lafayette earlier today, some Northwestern students painted letters on their chests to spell out “stand with Purdue,” a very nice and well executed gesture.