Similarly to its season-opening win over UMass Lowell, Northwestern seemed to take the first half of tonight's game against Columbia off, as the Wildcats went down big early on -- after fighting back to a 26-26 tie -- and were losing at halftime. And, like in that game, Northwestern staged a methodical comeback after the break, eventually tying the game up at 74 on a Bryant McIntosh jumper with 40 seconds left in regulation and going on to win 83-80 in overtime to improve to 3-0 on the season.
It was a game of runs, as Columbia used an initial 12-0 spurt to turn a 5-5 tie into a 17-5 advantage. Then, Northwestern used its own response of eight unanswered points to draw the game even before the Lions scored nine of the first half's final 11 points to take the lead at the break.
Columbia, which was projected to finish third in the Ivy League before this season began, relied heavily on the three-point shot early as Northwestern had a lot of trouble getting out to contest the Lions' shooters. Kyle Smith's team went 7-for-17 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes, and a good portion of those misses were pretty open looks.
After another Columbia streak put the Lions up 44-32, the Wildcats began a slow comeback attempt that brought them all the way back to a tie at 74 with less than 45 seconds to play on a McIntosh fadeaway. Then, after Columbia's Alex Rosenberg missed a contested three, Northwestern had a chance to win. Chris Collins chose not to call a timeout after Alex Olah snared the rebound. Tre Demps missed a potential game-winning 18-footer at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime. Whenever NU needed a big shot to stay in the game down the stretch, they got it, usually in the form of a three from either McIntosh, Demps or even Falzon, who didn't play well most of the day.
In the extra period, neither team could get much going on offense until Aaron Falzon split a pair of free throws to give Northwestern its first lead of the game. But, Rosenberg tied it up moments later with his own 1-for-2 effort at the line to give each side 75 points with just over three minutes to play. Seconds after, Bryant McIntosh got fouled on a drive to the hoop and made both freebies, putting NU up 77-75.
But, with various chances to tie or take the lead, Columbia missed key free throws, committed brutal turnovers and let up on the defensive glass -- a big Gavin Skelly tip-back burned some valuable time for Northwestern. That being said, with 1:25 left in overtime, the Lions could have taken a two-point advantage as Isaac Cohen, somehow, was left wide, wide open from the wing. However, he missed the easy look as the Wildcats secured the rebound and called timeout with 74 ticks to go.
Opportunity only knocks for a short time, as Demps drilled a huge three on the ensuing possession to put his team ahead 80-76. Another huge McIntosh jumper would prove to be the winner, as the Wildcats were able to hold on for win thanks to an Alex Rosenberg turnover at the buzzer as Columbia tried to get a clean look at a game-tying three.
Three key takeaways
1. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
Since Northwestern isn't the most explosive team, and certainly not the fastest, it cannot afford to commit live-ball turnovers that both end offensive possessions as well as provide fastbreak opportunities for its opponent. In the first half, the Wildcats committed nine turnovers to Columbia's three. That led to various transition hoops for the Lions. Also, it meant that NU wasn't forcing Columbia to make bad passes or commit violations that would increase the Wildcats' own chances to score.
Since both teams had similar amounts of field goal attempts, the game almost ended up being decided at the free throw line, where Columbia had 14 more tries from the charity stripe. This was also a factor of the Lions being more aggressive at driving to the basket than Northwestern.
2. Very bad defense, overall
Both teams ended up with solid shooting numbers, but a glaring issue for the Wildcats was the amount of completely uncontested shots Columbia had, both from three-point range and right at the basket. The Lions, to the their credit, did a great job with back-cuts and off-the-ball movement that led to dunks and easy layups, but Northwestern also was really slow with its rotations.
Another major weakness was the perimeter defense, especially when the Wildcats were playing a zone defense. Columbia's shooters -- like Grant Mullins, Kyle Castlin and Rosenberg -- had loads of space and time to get their shots off, and they were mostly accurate. There wasn't much communication from Northwestern on who was supposed to pick each shooter up. Also, the pick-and-roll defense, especially with Olah, was severely lacking, which Columbia exploited all night.
3. Impressive performances from McIntosh and Demps; but where's Olah?
Coming off a very strong showing on Wednesday in the win over Fairfield, Bryant McIntosh was once again the best player on the floor for Northwestern on Friday, scoring 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting. He was aggressive, constantly looking for his shot and, most importantly, very efficient. He also was perfect from three-point range, making five of his six long-distance attempts. The only area he, and the rest of the team, struggled in was taking care of the ball, as he committed five turnovers with just six assists.
Tre Demps, who struggled in the season's first two games, was back to his usual self tonight as he scored 22 points on 19 shots (4-of-8 from three-point range) and played all 45 mintues. If the Wildcats are going to be a competitive team this season, Demps is going to have to assume the same scoring role he did last year.
One key Northwestern player who was surprisingly not assertive on Friday was center Alex Olah, who was a complete non-factor in the first half offensively and only chipped in intermittently in the second. Olah didn't attempt his first shot of the night until there were around seven minutes left in the opening half. Yes, that's right, NU's center, with a size advantage over his matchup, didn't even shoot the ball until 13 minutes had elapsed. That's insane and it's a mix of plays not being called for him as well as him not establishing good post position on Columbia's Luke Petrasek. It wasn't good.