EVANSTON -- In the biggest game of the Chris Collins era at Northwestern, the Wildcats (13-2, 1-1 Big Ten) struggled against a very good Maryland (13-1, 2-0) team, falling at home 72-59. The Wildcats struggled to find creases in the Terrapin defense, missed too many of the open shots they did get, and were at times simply overwhelmed on the defensive end by the Terrapins' size, skill and depth. The Wildcats showed major grit and improved their overall play in the second half, cutting the deficit to as little as 13, but never really threatening the visitors' lead.
Backed by a near-capacity crowd, the Wildcats came out with a ton of energy early, but it didn't translate into good basketball. By the under-16 timeout, the Wildcats were 1-for-5 from the field and had five turnovers. Down 9-4, Chris Collins brought in Dererk Pardon, Gavin Skelly and Scottie Lindsey, but the Wildcats still struggled and trailed 15-6 at the under-12 timeout after a deep step-back three from Rasheed Sulaimon.
Turnovers continued to be the story as Northwestern got into their offensive sets late and often needed to force drives to the basket. Maryland—as any good team does—showed active hands, was aggressive out to the three-point arc and challenged every shot at the rim. Pardon once again impressed, but the Terrapins used a deep, long frontcourt to limit him, and the Wildcats struggled to get the ball on the interior as a whole. At every position, the Terrapins had a noticeable advantage in either size, skill or both, and the Terrapin lead swelled to as big as 22, as Sulaimon caught fire. The Wildcats grew increasingly frustrated on the offensive end and began settling for the first decent look they got. More often than not, that resulted in misses and opportunities for Maryland to run off long rebounds. The Terrapins, meanwhile, worked the ball inside effectively, giving perimeter players open shots. Sulaimon was able to take advantage to the tune of 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the first half. The Duke transfer also added three rebounds and three assists in the first 20 minutes, and his team led 40-20 heading into the break.
The second half started with more of the same. The Wildcats turned it over on their first possession, and Robert Carter scored on an eight-foot face-up jumper. But Northwestern would not go away, valiantly clawing into the deficit. The Wildcats got it to 15 after a fantastic block from van Zegeren that led to a McIntosh floater and then to 14 after a beautiful reverse from Tre Demps as the crowd got to its feet. But Melo Trimble came back to hit a cold-blooded three with the shot clock running down to put the Terps back up 17. The Wildcats would cut it to 14 again on a free throw from Aaron Falzon, but never got closer than that until the final seven seconds.
Maryland went on an 11-4 run over the next three minutes to push the deficit to 21, and the Wildcats—now against both the Terps and the clock—were effectively finished.
It was an impressive second half from the Wildcats, who were clearly inspired by one of the best Welsh-Ryan crowds in recent memory. The Wildcats were much more active on both ends of the floor and, had more open looks fallen, could have certainly put a serious fright into the nation's current No. 4 team. But credit Maryland, too, for making a lot of big shots, especially Melo Trimble, who started the game cold but finished with 24 points.
Overall, the effort from Northwestern was outstanding, and the play was at times frazzled but in general not too poor from the Wildcats, especially in the second half. It was the poor shooting that did the hosts in. If more of those fell, this would have been a much tighter game, and if more of those fall throughout the season, this will be a tough team to beat.
- Tre Demps is going to have to be better for this team if he wants to go to the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament in his senior year. Demps scored 9 points on 4-for-16 shooting. But part of the reason for that is...
- Rasheed Sulaimon is really, really good. And he had it going tonight. Although he quieted down in the second half, he finished with 16/6/6. His defensive effort against Demps was terrific.
- The offense picked up in the second half, and that was a very encouraging sign. The Wildcats moved the ball more efficiently and got a decent number of good looks from three. But Northwestern didn't hit their first three of the second half until about four minutes to go and overall shot an atrocious 2-for-20 from behind the arc. At the free-throw line, the team shot just 13-22.
- Bryant McIntosh's play was superb at times, and he was the main reason Northwestern stuck around. He hung right with Melo Trimble, one of the best point guards in the nation for the second-straight year. Trimble finished with more points and ultimately got the win, but McIntosh showed his ball-handling and passing skills on multiple occasions. He finished with 17 points, five rebounds and nine assists.
- Dererk Pardon held his own against a very good Maryland front line with 8 points on 4-for-5 shooting and 6 rebounds. Joey van Zegeren also played well, adding eight points.