It took an extra five minutes, but Northwestern (10-1) was able to beat cross-county foe DePaul (5-6) on Saturday afternoon 78-70 behind 18 points from Tre Demps and two huge threes in overtime from Aaron Falzon.
The first half was a slugfest for both teams, and actually looked more like the opening 20 minutes from a Northwestern game last year, not this one. The Wildcats couldn't get much going on offense -- save for a few impressive fastbreak possessions -- against a stingy DePaul defense and weren't able to make the open looks they did get, especially from three. Northwestern shot just 11-for-32 (2-for-13 from three) in the first half and was actually led in scoring by Sanjay Lumpkin, who scored nine early points.
But, since DePaul's Aaron Simpson was the only Blue Demon who could get into an offensive rhythm early on, the Wildcats only found themselves down 30-29. Simpson, a senior, scored 13 points (with three triples) before intermission as he got hot from beyond the arc. The rest of Dave Leitao's team made only five field goals in the first half (on 21 attempts). Also, DePaul missed loads of free throws, helping keep the visiting Wildcats in the game after a poor start.
After the break, Alex Olah quickly picked up his second and third fouls and was forced to the bench. Then, the Blue Demons started to attack the rim with intensity and got a ton of easy shots right at the hoop that were caused by effective penetration and weak Northwestern rotations. DePaul took a 43-36 lead, its largest advantage of the game to that point, but when Olah came back in the game, the Wildcats were able to fight right back.
When Olah had to sit again a few minutes after being called for his fourth foul, the game really turned into a dogfight between two teams that couldn't separate themselves from each other. The Wildcats, outside of Tre Demps, had no one who could consistently make open shots while DePaul refused to convert on its various free throw chances. As you could imagine, this resulted in a low-scoring affair with a lot of missed shots.
With just over six minutes to play, and DePaul up 55-49, Olah was brought back in for the Wildcats. But, even with their center back on the floor, the Wildcats couldn't get stops as the Blue Demons were able to extend some possessions with offensive rebounds and actually started making foul shots. Just when it appeared as if NU's halfcourt offense struggles would do the team in, Tre Demps drilled a huge three to cut the deficit to a single possession. It was Demps' first triple of the day and came on a nice pass from Lumpkin at the top of the key after good ball movement.
The Wildcats kept coming back, though, as they rolled off a huge 7-0 run to get a 58-57 lead back after being down by a sizable margin for much of the stretch. After a nice find by McIntosh to get Lumpkin a layup, DePaul was able to go back ahead thanks to two free throws secured by multiple offensive rebounds. On the other end, two good looks from Demps were missed, eventually leading to another pair of Blue Demons free throws to put the home team up 61-58 with under two minutes to go.
After Northwestern tied the game at 61 after a McIntosh layup and Lumpkin split of free throws, Alex Olah blocked the potential game-winning floater before Scottie Lindsey and Tre Demps each barely missed jumpers that could have won the game for the Wildcats, so the game headed to overtime.
A Falzon triple, his first made shot of the whole game, gave the Wildcats a 66-65 advantage in the extra period before a Demps floater extended the lead to three. Northwestern's defense really locked down on DePaul, but, most importantly, stopped committing dumb fouls and forced the Blue Demons into tough misses.
Then, a Lumpkin layup (off his own missed shot) put NU up five, a lead which seemed insurmountable due to DePaul's inability to get any good shots off. Then, when another Falzon three put the Wildcats up 73-65, the victory was, for all intents and purposes, sealed.
Here are three takeaways from this crazy game:
1. The shooters just didn't make shots, until one did
From the beginning of the game, Northwestern just wasn't able to make shots, a trend which continued all game. Aaron Falzon was 0-6 from the field (all threes) in regulation, while Lindsey (1-for-4 from deep), Taphorn (0-for-2), McIntosh (1-for-5) and Demps (1-for-6) all struggled to knock down long-range jumpers. But, Falzon, after struggling all game, hit a huge three in overtime to give the Wildcats a one-point lead.
Then, just a few moments later, Falzon drilled another triple to essentially finish the game off. The Wildcats ended the day making just six of 27 threes (22 percent for those counting) but it was only the final two attempts that mattered, and they were made by the true freshman Falzon.
2. Foul issues stung, again
At the 13:49 mark of the second half, Northwestern committed its seventh foul, putting the Blue Demons in the bonus with an ungodly amount of time left to play. That foul was committed by Olah, as it was his fourth of the day and forced him to go to the bench for much of the remainder of the game. DePaul continued to not take advantage of the charity stripe chances but the fouls took the Wildcats' best frontcourt player out of the key part of the game.
For a team that's already dealing with depth issues, along with a few injuries, key guys cannot keep getting in early foul trouble. Beyond just Olah, Gavin Skelly, Lumpkin and even Scottie Lindsey had at least three fouls for most of the second half. The Blue Demons used this to their advantage as they hit the paint hard on offense. By challenging shorthanded Northwestern at the rim, with Olah out, DePaul drew a lot of fouls and got high-percentage shots off.
3. Olah's struggles continue, and hurt other guys on the team
It's been written about often on this site, but the inconsistencies of Northwestern senior center Alex Olah are confounding. He looked dominant in the recent wins over SIU Edwardsville and Mississippi Valley State (not the toughest opponents for a talented 7-footer) but was nowhere to be found this afternoon, like in a bunch of the Wildcats' other games this season. Olah made a few shots in the first half but had trouble getting good post position and ended up settling for too many inefficient mid-range jumpers.
Then, in the second half, he quickly had to sit with three fouls in favor of Skelly. This really hamstrung Chris Collins, whose frontcourt depth was already in question with van Zegeren's absence. Skelly was left in with three fouls of his own, and quickly picked up a fourth. This hurt NU's defense, as Skelly lost some of his aggressiveness on the defensive end, which let DePaul make its first four shots of the half to build a seven-point lead. Northwestern played the last quarter of the game with both of its bigs carrying four fouls, and despite picking up the win, the foul trouble hurt NU on both ends of the floor.