Bryant McIntosh is so clutch. After Virginia Tech forced the game to overtime after Northwestern had blown a nine-point halftime lead and a six-point lead with under three minutes left, McIntosh made the game-winning layup to give Northwestern its second overtime win of the season.
Northwestern got off to a solid start, going up 18-9 behind 11 points from Tre Demps in just eight minutes. After a slow start to the game, Virginia Tech’s offense heated up as Seth Allen sunk three jumpers from beyond the arc to cut Northwestern’s lead to four with 5:41 left in the first half. Virginia Tech had been shooting 28.6 from three this season, but the Hokies managed to go 4-for-9 from three-point range in the first half.
Northwestern shot very well in the first half despite the fast-paced game, going 56.7 percent from the field and 43 percent from three. Even Alex Olah was feeling it, as he banked home a three-pointer at the buzzer to put the Wildcats up nine at halftime. Northwestern held the lead for almost the entire first half, but both teams played quick, sloppy basketball with plenty of poor turnovers to go around.
In the second half, Virginia Tech quickly cut the lead to just one point and Northwestern was unable to extend its lead in the second half. Virginia Tech tied the game with 8:45 to go on a tip-in from Satchel Pierce. The two teams traded baskets for a few minutes before Northwestern was finally able to extend its lead to six points on a wide-open three from Bryant McIntosh. However, Seth Allen answered with his third three-pointer and Virginia Tech tied the game with 55 seconds left.
Virginia Tech had a possession at the end of the game, but Northwestern forced a turnover and got the ball back with 24.5 to play. In the last possession at the end of regulation, Tre Demps missed a jumper to end the game and the game went to overtime. In overtime, Virginia Tech went up by four but Northwestern was able to take the lead off a game-changing Sanjay Lumpkin three-pointer (yes, that sentence is accurate). Virginia Tech tied it, but then McIntosh saved Northwestern yet again. The Hokies had a terrible final possession that resulted in a missed shot to seal the game for the Wildcats. With that, Northwestern moves to 6-1 on the season with a good chance at going 12-1 in the rest of non-conference play.
Here are three takeaways and some notes from the game:
1. Northwestern looks decent offensively
Northwestern continued its offensive success against Virginia Tech with 81 points on 47.8 percent shooting. When the shots are falling for Northwestern, the offense looks potent. Thanks to the elite long-range shooting of McIntosh, Demps, Aaron Falzon, Nate Taphorn and others, Northwestern has excelled from three-point range this year. After seven games, Northwestern is a dangerous jump-shooting team that can go on scoring runs against any defense. However, when the team goes cold, Northwestern can find itself behind or blow a lead in a matter of minutes.
In this game, we saw the best and worst of Northwestern's streaky offense. The Wildcats shot well in the first half, but struggled in the second. Virginia Tech went on a big run to start the second half and Northwestern was barely able to hold off the Hokies after that. Unsurprisingly, the Wildcats' offense relied on its guard play, as McIntosh and Demps combined for 36 points. Demps started off the game well, but he went cold in the second half which allowed the Hokies to get back into the game. However, Northwestern was able to get big points from Lumpkin and Taphorn to make up for Demps' cold streak. Northwestern has been able to get solid performances from one or two of its role players in every game this season, and both players provided Northwestern with critical points to keep the Wildcats ahead.
On the negative end, Alex Olah was completely ineffective in the post, and he did not provide much help on the offensive glass either. Olah was reduced to shooting awkward hook shots away from the basket. He ended with just 5 points after a two-for-six night from the floor and missed a key free throw attempt in crunch time. Bryant McIntosh had some terrible turnovers reminiscent of his freshman season, and he has to be more careful when he drives the ball. Northwestern had a grand total of five offensive rebounds against Virginia Tech, and the Wildcats' ineffective rebounding has hurt them on both sides of the floor this season. They also had zero fastbreak points despite 12 turnovers from Virginia Tech. While Northwestern has the offensive firepower to hang with most teams, it will be a streaky team due in part to its lack of rebounding.
2. Foul trouble and bad defense...again
Virginia Tech was in the bonus five minutes into the second half. Northwestern's zone defense looked suspect against Virginia Tech, and the team usually resorts to fouling as the defensive scheme collapses. Northwestern also had a bevy of dumb fouls and allowed Virginia Tech plenty of second-chance efforts as the Wildcats were out-rebounded by six on the offensive glass. The defense has not looked competent for the entire season, and it will definitely burn them during conference play. Northwestern's inability to get a stop while up six with 2:38 to go forced the game into overtime.
Northwestern's foul issues nearly cost it the game against Missouri, and it hurt its ability to hold onto any lead in the second half. The zone defense broke down on multiple occasions and left Virginia Tech with plenty of uncontested jumpshots and layups. The team was able to force Virginia Tech into outside shots, which followed the gameplan, but Northwestern was left helpless as Virginia Tech hit jumper after jumper.
That being said, Alex Olah did have three blocks in the game, including an incredibly timely one in overtime. The defense is below-average, but it has been passable enough to keep Northwestern in games, and that's all that matters for now.
3. Northwestern goes Cardiac Cats in crunch-time
We have to talk about Northwestern's end-of-game performance. Somehow, Northwestern blew several chances to win the game in regulation, but managed to come up with its second OT win of the year behind some clutch shots. Yeah, that sentence does not do justice to the stress of the last seven minutes of the game.
However, Northwestern's disastrous offensive possessions at the end of regulation let Virginia Tech back into the game. First, McIntosh turned the ball over for the fourth time in the game. Then Taphorn missed a wide-open three that probably would have sealed the game. Then, after a Virginia Tech miss, Alex Olah got fouled but missed the front end of the 1-and-1. Then, McIntosh missed a layup to take the lead and Tre Demps badly missed the potential game-winner after a quintessential hero-ball possession. It's completely fair to say that Northwestern blew the game multiple times in the final minutes.
Northwestern gave up two quick baskets to Virginia Tech to start the overtime period, but then got two clutch three-pointers from Lumpkin and McIntosh to retake the lead. Lumpkin made huge baskets all game, but when his three-pointer started rattling around the rim, I'd expect most viewers thought it wouldn't go. But it did, only for Northwestern to give up a jumper to Justin Bibbs to tie the game 79-79 on the next possession. Against Columbia, Northwestern survived overtime thanks to poor free-throw shooting and McIntosh's ice-water veins. McIntosh came through in overtime once again for Northwestern, as he hit the game-tying layup to give Northwestern a two-point lead.
However, did anyone expect Northwestern's defense to get a stop on Virginia Tech's final possession? Well, it did, and Buzz Williams' play call after the timeout left much to be desired. Just like that, Northwestern prevailed in another crazy overtime game.