Northwestern ended its 10-game losing streak in style Sunday with an exciting overtime victory against the Iowa Hawkeyes, 66-61. Bryant McIntosh, Tre Demps and Alex Olah all played key roles in helping the Wildcats secure the win at Welsh-Ryan Arena. There was a palpable fear down the stretch that Northwestern might choke away another close game, but NU held on with impressive fortitude.
Overall grade: A
A victory is a victory, and one that comes after a double-digit losing streak gets an "A" in my book. The Wildcats started hot and built a 10-point lead in the first, before allowing the Hawkeyes to climb back into it. But while one might expect such a young team that has suffered recent tough losses to lose focus, the Wildcats stayed tough and battled down the stretch, pulling this one out. They showed aggressiveness on defense, a sharp focus on offense, and knew when to give the ball to Demps and get out of the way.
The zone seemed to give the Hawkeyes some trouble early, not letting them establish a rhythm on the offensive end. Down the stretch in regulation and overtime, Northwestern showed resolve with some big defensive stands that enabled them to pull this one out. Jarrod Uthoff caught fire near the end of regulation and almost single-handedly took this game to overtime, but there isn't much defensively the Wildcats could have done about that -- especially Uthoff's circus shot that tied the game with two seconds left. But there were a couple instances where the Wildcats seemed to allow themselves to be screened pretty easily and let Iowa have too much time to set their feet.
The offense on the whole was something to be proud of-- NU did win after all. But there were times the offense was stagnant and only the one-on-one ability of Demps allowed Northwestern to avoid field goal droughts. That being said, McIntosh constantly was able to get into the lane and tried to create opportunities while the other players made smart cuts at the right times to finish at the rim for easy baskets. All in all, an offensive performance to be praised.
Olah was a force to be reckoned with in this game. While he disappeared for stretches in the first half, he came alive in the second half and especially in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime. Especially on the defensive end, Olah formed a freakin' wall. There were multiple big possessions that ended with an Olah block or an Olah rebound when the Wildcats needed a stop and Olah was a huge reason why Aaron White was held to just six points on 1-12 shooting, a player who normally averages more than 15 per game.
When Northwestern's offense was on life support, it was Demps to the rescue. The Wildcats gave him the ball and got out of the way, letting him show off his isolation skills on his way to 16 points and three assists. He had a personal 6-0 run when the game was in danger of slipping away that gave the Wildcats the lead back. It seemed this game that Demps was going to will his team to victory.
McIntosh came out red hot, scoring Northwestern's first seven points before disappearing for most of the rest of the first half. He had an ugly stretch near the middle of the second half, including a 10-second violation, but recovered to finish the game nicely, adding some late free throws to help Northwestern keep the lead. He was calm in the face of immense pressure, despite his youth. This has to bode well for his future development as the team's primary ball handler.
Lumpkin didn't impact the game very noticeably, outside of some big rebounds and a nice block on a driving Hawkeye. He didn't score but won an important tie-up late in the game to give the ball back to Northwestern. He missed a couple of fairly open layups after getting dishes from a driving McIntosh, but also had a key steal late.
Law picked up two quick fouls and had to go to bench with 18 minutes left in the first half because of it. He came back in with about 12 to go and then missed an open layup before picking up his third foul in only two minutes of game time. Not his most impressive performance. He was also the defender Uthoff made his circus shot over to tie the game with two seconds left.
Lindsey hit a big three early on off a pass from McIntosh that was part of Northwestern's early surge, but disappeared for long stretches during this game. He cut to the basket and received a nice pass from a driving Demps late in the game, which he converted for an easy layup. But he needs to harness his immense athleticism better and impact the game. His presence should be felt, especially in transition.
Sobolweski hit two threes early on that got the crowd going and didn't make mistakes in this game, leading by example as a senior should. He was able to effectively spell McIntosh and execute the offense while in the game. He also came in late in overtime to hit two huge free throws to ice the game and extend Northwestern's lead to five with only about 10 seconds left.
Skelly didn't have much impact in this game, but he had one nice stretch where he converted a layup and had a nice block. When called upon, he played his part.
Kreisberg didn't see many minutes in this one and as such, did not have much impact.
Taphorn hit a huge three with 45 seconds left in regulation to put Northwestern up two, but this was his first game in a few weeks and the rust showed. He drew two quick fouls after coming on in the first half and also air-balled a three. But the three at the end of regulation was humongous and that earns him an "A-".