Building off their decent play last night in the loss to No. 9 North Carolina, the Northwestern Wildcats used a great first half to hang onto a 67-62 victory over the SEC's Missouri Tigers tonight in Kansas City as a part of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. Bryant McIntosh and Tre Demps led the Wildcats with 13 points apiece in the win while Sanjay Lumpkin contributed nine points. Terrance Phillips led the Tigers with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
The Wildcats seemed poised for a blowout win but found themselves only up three in the game's final minute. However, Northwestern made its free throws and Missouri wasn't able to make any of its shots down the stretch, sealing the win.
Northwestern, like in yesterday's defeat at the hands of the Tar Heels, played pretty well for most of the first half and even was ahead 31-11 after 13 or so minutes. The Tigers, who were crushed 66-42 by Kansas State on Monday, looked like a downtrodden team that had no clue how to get anything going on offense and couldn't slow down the Wildcats' shooters on the other end of the floor.
But, Kim Anderson's team used a 7-2 run to finish the first half and get to the intermission down 14 points, 38-24. The Wildcats weren't able to put Missouri away and get rid of any doubt about the eventual result of this game, but they weathered the storm and took a big lead into the half. Chris Collins must have been very happy with how his team played in the opening 20 minutes.
The Tigers, down 44-31 with 14:30 left in the game, were able to chip away at their deficit for the next five minutes to get within 51-45. Missouri had all the momentum and it felt like Northwestern, which suddenly went cold from the field, could easily let this game slip away. However, the Wildcats responded immediately with a Joey van Zegeren dunk to go back up by eight.
Both teams essentially traded hoops for awhile, as every Missouri push forward was answered by Northwestern with a big jumper or layup. Demps finally got his shot going as he was able to find some open space to make plays. With McIntosh, Sanjay Lumpkin and Alex Olah dealing with foul trouble, Demps had to step up, and he certainly did.
Still, Missouri continued to fight back and Northwestern let the Tigers hang around. Then, when Terrence Phillips converted on a three-point play to cut the NU lead to 60-55 with 5:32 to play, it became apparent that the Wildcats had to make a few more plays to win this game. A minute later, when McIntosh fouled out, that task became much more difficult.
The Tigers proved to be a pesky foe and hung right with Northwestern until the final 30 seconds of the game. Down 65-61 with a half-minute to go, Kevin Puryear split a pair of free throws but Aaron Falzon grabbed the board and got the ball to Demps, who was fouled and make one of his attempts from the line. Then, Wes Clark clanked a jumper that could have brought his team within a single basket and Lumpkin got the rebound, finishing the win off with a free throw to make it 67-62 in favor of 4-1 Northwestern.
Here are some key takeaways (and other things to think about) from the game:
1. Foul issues abound
This has been an issue for the Wildcats all season, but really seemed to hurt them tonight. Lumpkin, who was the biggest culprit of them all, seemed to have three or four fouls for most of the second half. Olah and McIntosh (who fouled-out for the first time this season) struggled with fouls and put a hamper on what the Northwestern offense could do. When neither of those guys is on the floor, the offense tends to stagnate as Demps dominates the ball. This leads to too many mid-range jumpers and unsuccessful possessions.
Both guys had to ride the bench for significant portions of the second half, which Chris Collins has rarely done with either of them even when they aren't in foul trouble. This completely threw off the rest of the team, which wasn't able to cope with their absence well. Without McIntosh for the final four-and-a-half minutes, Scottie Lindsey had to play the point, which is he isn't used to doing.
2. The threes were falling
Well, at least in the first half and for a few minutes in the second half, they were. Northwestern was able to take a 20-point lead just 13 minutes into the game because of the shooting of guys like McIntosh (who made his first three triples), Demps and even Lumpkin. The Wildcats went 7-for-15 from deep in the opening half.
Without Vic Law to space the floor, Northwestern's long-range shooting from the small forward position was a big question mark before the season but if Lumpkin -- who drilled two big threes, one from the corner, Law's favorite spot to shoot from -- can be relied on to make shots, it won't be an issue. Olah also made a three from the top of the key. The only real issue tonight was that after his initial spurt, McIntosh didn't even attempt a long ball the rest of the game. For most of the second half, the Wildcats' only reliable scorer was Demps.
3. Will Olah be involved in this offense?
Olah didn't do much offensively against Columbia on Friday and North Carolina and was a non-factor once again tonight. He only scored eight points on 2-of-7 shooting (with six rebounds) and looked more like a role player rather than one of the Wildcats' most important players. It was clear in the game's first five minutes that there was a focus to get him the ball, but he wasn't able to do much in the post and mostly passed it back out. He did hit a big three and was solid on defense. Still, if he isn't scoring, there just aren't many other options for this team to look to.
4. Gavin Skelly was great off the bench, again
It could be argued that Chris Collins' decision to bring Skelly in on Friday was the reason the Wildcats forced overtime against Columbia and eventually won. He made the same move tonight and it had a similar effect, as Skelly provided a huge boost to the team with seven points and three rebounds in relatively limited time. He got great position down low and also converted on an important three-point play to keep the Tigers at bay. With each strong performance, he makes a case for more and more playing time.