Northwestern moved to 13-1 on the year after defeating Nebraska 81-72 in both teams' Big Ten opener. Here's how their performances rated:
Nebraska opened the second half with two quick baskets to extend its lead to 10, and just a minute later, freshman Aaron Falzon made an errant pass that led to an easy layup to give the Cornhuskers a 12-point advantage. The game seemed to be slipping away from the Alex Olah-less Wildcats. ESPN's television camera flashed to Chris Collins, who looked surprisingly calm as he called a timeout and gathered his team around him. Whatever Collins said worked because Northwestern would claw its way back through offensive rebounds, second chance points and a reinvigorated offense. While the Wildcats were led by freshman center Derek Pardon, this conference victory on the road was ultimately a team effort. Northwestern's defense was in shambles for most of the first half and beginning of the second, failing to box out and not closing out on three pointers. The adjustments after the timeout, including staying in the 2-3 zone with 11:30 remaining, proved to be the difference for Northwestern. With Olah out and a date with No. 4 Maryland at Welsh-Ryan looming on Saturday, Wednesday's game felt like a must-win for the Wildcats, and they did so in a gutty, come-from-behind fashion.
The stats don't show it, but McIntosh played yet another very solid game. He couldn't get his three-point shot going all game (he finished 0-5 from three) and that led to his low point totals, but his assist numbers were there. However, in crunch time with the game on the line, McIntosh stepped up. He hit a tough floater in the lane to cut Nebraska's lead to one after Andrew White had put them up 66-63, and his alley-oop pass to Dererk Pardon was one of his best looks of the day. In typical McIntosh fashion, he put the game away by sinking two free throws with 41 seconds left. It wasn't his best game of the year, but it's great to see him step up as a leader late in games, especially when Northwestern needed him to.
Demps put up the scoring totals that we're used to seeing from him. Much like McIntosh, he didn't have his best game of the year but he came up huge down the stretch. He banked in a contested, off-balance fadeaway three with the shot clock winding down to tie the game at 63, and despite a poor shooting night, never lost his aggressiveness. He beat his man off the ball and finished with a pretty finger-roll to put the Wildcats up 71-66. What Demps needs to work on is his defense. He got lost on screens and even on a simple guard-to-guard pass, which is just unacceptable. The entire team is responsible for not closing out on Nebraska's shooters so it's unfair to pinpoint a single player, but Demps' defense was brutal at times.
It was refreshing to finally see Falzon open the game with the hot hand, he kept Northwestern in the game early in the first half by hitting his first three shots from beyond the arc. His shooting clinic continued into the second half where he buried a three to cut Nebraska's lead to four points with just over 11 minutes remaining. Falzon has seemingly limitless range and certainly doesn't lack confidence. He's become a key part to this offense.
It was a tough game for Lumpkin offensively as he missed his only attempt, a three-pointer. His rebounding totals were right on line with his averages, but Lumpkin really could have contributed more defensively. Nebraska had 8 offensive rebounds, which of course were not all his responsibility, but he got boxed out successfully multiple times on the defensive glass. It's gonna take a bigger game for Lumpkin, Northwestern's glue-guy on the defensive end, against Maryland on Saturday.
Joey van Zegeren
Van Zegeren simply didn't play much because he wasn't performing and Pardon was. He did some nice work on the offensive glass including a nice finish and a rebound, but van Zegeren got pushed around too much for a guy of his stature defensively. He conceded an offensive rebound and layup and promptly turned the ball over on the next offensive possession, and that sequenced pretty much ensured Pardon finishing the game. It will be interesting to see who starts at center on Saturday.
I told myself I would never give an A+ because, well, there are no "A-pluses" in the college grading scale and this is college basketball. But Pardon deserves it. In just his second career game since burning his redshirt, Pardon has us wondering why he was slotted on the end of the bench all season as a redshirt. Sure, he made some freshman mistakes; he forgot to box out early in the game and fouled soft which led to an and-one. But those mistakes pale in comparison to what Pardon did well. First off, he was physical, even mores than Olah. He battled on both ends, establishing himself down low and pushing around Nebraska's big men. Seven of his 12 rebounds were on the offensive end. He followed his own misses on multiple occasions for easy put-back layups. He showcased his post-moves and his right-hand with a soft hook over four-star recruit Ed Morrow. His two-handed put-back dunk put Northwestern up 67-66, a lead they wouldn't relinquish. He added a steal and a block and remained a presence down-low all game. Pardon went two-for-two from the free throw line in crunch time. I'm having trouble stopping this paragraph because he deserves much more praise. What a performance from the true freshman that was an afterthought until the Olah injury.
Lindsey, like most of this Northwestern team, has got to close out more effectively. He had a pretty ugly looking turnover on a travel in the first half, but Lindsey always seems to make up for his prior mistakes. He hit three timely three pointers, the final one a dagger in front of the Northwestern bench to tie the game at 60. He also chipped in on the defensive glass.
It's tough to grade Skelly because he played just eight minutes due to Pardon's takeover, but he didn't do much in his brief time on the court. He had a nice find on a backdoor cut by Demps, but his work boxing out on the defensive glass could definitely have been better. It'll be interesting to see how Skelly's minutes play out now that Pardon has established himself in the rotation.
Taphorn simply didn't play enough to warrant a grade, but he did take off his warmup and calmly sink two three throws late in the fourth quarter, which is always impressive.