Despite a valiant effort that led to a tie game at halftime and then a late second half run, Northwestern let a lead slip away in overtime at the Breslin Center, falling to an impressive Michigan State team, . The Wildcats didn't score in the first 4+ minutes of the game, but they got hot in the last 16 minutes of the first half, sporting a 71 percent effective field goal percentage at the break.
NU seemed to run out of gas in the second half and turned it over too much in a mid-half Spartans run, but Tre Demps caught fire late to send it to overtime. However, the Wildcats were discombobulated on offense in OT, and they couldn't get anything going. Here are the three biggest things we learned from this near-upset.
1. Should NU maybe speed up the tempo?
Northwestern has become known for slowing it down a lot during the Chris Collins era in order to keep things close, but that's also led to some really inefficient offense, with the Wildcats looking for a late pick-and-roll, or Tre Demps living the JR Smith motto.
But during the first half, NU actually had success running the floor a bit. The tempo allowed some lanes to open up for McIntosh to get inside, and he responded both by finishing well in the paint and dishing it out to three-point shooters. Throughout the run, Collins kept telling his guys to slow it down, and it's probably not best to play up-tempo all the time, but the pace helps get things going at times. Varying tempo could confuse opponents (hi, Oregon football) and get the Wildcats some better shots.
2. The big guys have to get better
This is particularly on Alex Olah. Olah has actually shown pretty solid defensive improvement that flies under the radar. He's never going to be great with quicker centers, but his footwork has improved when opposing players have attempted to post up against him.
However, Olah has been a liability on offense, and he's struggled to build on the improvement he showed at the end of his sophomore year. He's seemingly forgotten his post moves, and his hook shot has been wildly off the mark. Moreover, whenever he gets the ball down low, he brings the ball down to his waist instead of going straight up with it.
Jeremiah Kreisburg is not the answer here, and for NU to have any sort of inside game, Olah has to improve some basic fundamentals.
3. Can the guards do this again?
The only reason the Wildcats were able to hang in there as long as they did is because of the play of Bryant McIntosh, JerShon Cobb and Tre Demps. Cobb has been battling injuries all season, but he had his best game of the year. He got the ball rolling for the Wildcats, and despite not being 100 percent his contributions were a major reason NU was able to keep this tied at halftime.
McIntosh was arguably the best player on the court for either team. He was aggressive in transition, and his decision-making was outstanding. He also finished at the rim and showed fans flashes of what he can do. Demps was as efficient as he's been all year — he got assists! — and stepped up down the stretch. For the Wildcats to win any games of significance, the guards are going to have to be just as efficient as they were today.
You can read more in our postgame notes/quotes piece, but here are a few:
- Collins: "I'm heartbroken for my team, because I felt we deserved to win the game. Michigan State was good, but I thought our guys were really good today."
- Collins said the late run "took a lot out of us. We needed to win that game in regulation."
- I asked Collins about playing hero ball toward the end. He said "maybe we were watching different games," and said they weren't playing hero ball. However, NU did go Demps ISO up two with 50 seconds left and opted to not go two-for-one. Moreover, the last play was a Demps heave from the start.
- Collins said he shouldn't have acted how he did on the technical and he deserved it.
- Collins made a crack about stats people overanalyzing things, and that they didn't do anything different, the shots just went in.
- Collins said that if NU is going to upset teams, it's going to have to be when they play games in the 60s.