EVANSTON — Bryant McIntosh scored 28 points and played his best game in a Northwestern uniform to lead the Wildcats to a 70-65 win over Wisconsin Tuesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
It was the kind of game that last year Northwestern might have lost, especially during its 10-game skid, but McIntosh at times singlehandedly held off Wisconsin's late charge and urged the Wildcats on to victory.
Northwestern came out with more energy and pep to start the game than it has all season, and took a 10-3 lead, forcing Wisconsin coach Greg Gard to take an early timeout. McIntosh was head-and-shoulders above any other player on the floor in the early going, and he hit his first three shots, all floaters or jumpers in the paint.
Northwestern's defense was also great early on. Wisconsin scored points on just two of its first 11 possessions. Northwestern's matchup zone had the Badgers befuddled, and their ball movement was stagnant.
Then the Wildcats went cold though, and Wisconsin hit a few contested shots, found some soft spots in Northwestern's zone, and pulled to within 16-15 at the under-8 timeout. A Jordan Hill three gave the Badgers their first lead of the game at 18-16.
The final 7 minutes of the half were back-and-forth. Nigel Hayes started to give Northwestern's zone problems, but on the other end, Tre Demps found Aaron Falzon on a kick-out for three, and then Sanjay Lumpkin hit a corner three. Northwestern went into the halftime break up 26-24.
Northwestern, similarly to the first half, came out of the halftime break firing once again. Sanjay Lumpkin was particularly active down low on offense, and McIntosh created for both himself and others. Northwestern took a 35-30 lead on a Lumpkin free throw. Wisconsin hung on though, locked down on defense, and hit two big threes, one from Bronson Koenig and another from Zak Showalter, to regain the lead, 47-45, with 9 minutes to play.
Then it was Northwestern's turn to answer back. McIntosh alley-ooped to van Zegeren off a pick-and-roll, the Wildcats forced a shot clock violation, and McIntosh snuck a layup past Ethan Happ to put Northwestern up by 5, 52-47, with 6:07 remaining.
McIntosh continued to carry Northwestern's offense, and had a reply every time Wisconsin knocked on the door. He was consistently able to get to the rim. His layup with 3:43 remaining put NU up 59-53 heading into the under-4 timeout, and his jumper coming out of it pushed the lead to 8.
Wisconsin went to its press late on and forced Northwestern into some potentially-disastrous turnovers. But with the Badgers in possession and fewer than 20 seconds left on the clock, Bronson Koenig drove, and Gavin Skelly, wearing a mask due to a facial injury, stepped in and drew a charge to seal the win.
McIntosh has become a star this year. If there were any doubts coming into the game about that fact, they were put to rest. McIntosh scored 28 points and dished out 5 assists to lead Northwestern in both categories.
Northwestern got the majority of its offense from McIntosh in pick-and-roll situations, especially in the first half. He made three mid-range shots early on, and forced Wisconsin to pay him more attention when coming off ball screens. The Badgers' pick-and-roll defense improved, and forced a few McIntosh turnovers, but NU's sophomore point guard mostly stayed a step ahead. He continued to score, but also found van Zegeren on rolls and dished to shooters.
Northwestern didn't create as much offense as a team as it had at times this season. The Wildcats only had 10 assists as a team, well below their season average of 18. Coming into the game, they had assisted on 65.1 percent of their made field goals, but Tuesday night, they assisted on just 45.5 percent. But McIntosh created plenty of his own offense in the second half. Whenever he found a mismatch with a Wisconsin forward or center switched onto him, he took him off the dribble, either getting to the basket and finishing with his right hand or pulling up from beyond the arc. Northwestern would not have won the game without him.
Northwestern struggled with Nigel Hayes, but its zone was effective overall
Hayes is a tough matchup for any defense, but he was the one Wisconsin player who posed problems for Northwestern's zone. In man-to-man defense, it's easier to dictate where on the court a player is allowed to catch the ball, and therefore double teams can be more structured and scripted. In Northwestern's zone though, which has a lot of moving parts, Hayes was often able to catch the ball in good scoring positions in between the wing and the center of the zone. When Northwestern then brought doubles, Ethan Happ was often left open in good positions. Hayes finished with 17 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists, while Happ scored 12. Northwestern limited his scoring enough though, and its matchup zone for the most part shut down Wisconsin's offense when it didn't run through Hayes.
Northwestern rebounded 10 of its first 23 misses, a 43.5 percent offensive rebounding percentage. Coming into the game, with Olah out and Wisconsin starting three players 6-foot-8 or taller, rebounding figured to be a potential issue for the Wildcats, but it was anything but. Northwestern team rebounded really well, boxed out, and Sanjay Lumpkin was especially active on the offensive glass. On the defensive end, Northwestern rebounded over 80 percent of Wisconsin's misses.
Demps really struggled once again. His distribution was better, but he still forced too many shots, and the offense too often hits a hitch when the ball touches Demps' hands. The senior finished 3 for 10 from the field, and 0 for 2 from beyond the arc. He missed multiple open jumpers.
It was a late arriving crowd, mostly due to the 6 p.m. tip, but by the second half, both student sections had filled in, and for the third straight game, Welsh-Ryan was jumping. It's becoming a really good college basketball atmosphere.