Indianapolis, IN — It does not get more heartbreaking than that...
The Northwestern Wildcats (2-1) battled toe-to-toe with the favored Butler Bulldogs (2-0) on the road in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, but came up just short down the stretch, with the Bulldogs’ Kamar Baldwin hitting a game-winning jumper in the final second of play.
The performance will certainly be more encouraging than disheartening for the team going forward. Vic Law had yet another impressive offensive game with 17 points, and Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, and Sanjay Lumpkin also scored in double figures in a game that could have been a win for Chris Collins’ team on any other day.
The start of the game was incredibly gritty, physical and fast-paced, setting the tone for the slugfest that would ensue. McIntosh dictated the flow of the action early, finishing twice in the paint with a pair of floaters and adding a free throw as the Wildcats jumped out to a 9-5 lead after five minutes.
The offense came out cold after the first TV timeout, going scoreless for the next 4:58 and committing three turnovers during that same stretch. However, the Wildcats limited the damages that could have resulted from their offensive woes by stifling the Bulldogs with smooth rotations and tough interior defense. Kelan Martin provided the offensive spark for the home team, working on a combination of Lumpkin and Aaron Falzon for 5 points as Butler scratched out an 11-9 lead as the midway point of the half neared.
A floater from Isiah Brown at the end of the shot clock broke Northwestern’s scoring drought and tied the game at 11, and seemed to take the lid off the basket for the Wildcats. Two 3-pointers from Law either side of a Lindsey layup of an underneath inbounds play gave the underdog visitors a 19-14 lead at the 5:35 mark as the Bulldogs’ offense continued to struggle to make shots.
It was left to Baldwin and fellow guard Tyler Lewis, who had both been scoreless to that point, to ignite their team in front of a Hinkle crowd that was waiting to explode. The pair took turns hitting back-to-back buckets, combining for 9 points on 4-4 shooting during an 11-3 Butler run that gave them a 25-22 lead with 3:35 to play in the half.
In the closing exchanges of the half, the Bulldogs dominated on the interior—pulling down 7 offensive rebounds in the final three minutes—but failed to capitalize on their extra shot opportunities, with their bigs missing many looks in close. That wastefulness came back to bite them, as Northwestern received contributions from behind the line, with Brown nailing a three off the dribble to tie the game at 27 and Law draining an even bigger one with a minute left to reclaim the lead for the visitors.
Law’s bucket turned out to be the last scoring of the half. The Wildcats went into the halftime break up 32-29, having staved off what had the looks of a potentially game-changing Bulldog run. For the third straight game, Law was the high scorer at the half-way point with his 9 points on 3-3 shooting from long range. Butler shot just 31% in the first half, while Northwestern shot 46% on 11 fewer field goal attempts. Butler big men Andrew Chrabascz and Tyler Wideman struggled in the opening period, with Chrabascz shooting 1-7 and Wideman sitting most of the half with foul trouble.
After going cold to end the first half, Martin came out scorching to start the second. The wing hit Butler’s first three shots of the half, two of which were deep threes that lifted the roof off of Hinkle. However, the Wildcats responded quickly. Lindsey hit two jumpers for five points, and Vic Law added his fourth three of the game in an offensive frenzy that kept the Wildcats in the lead, 42-41 heading into the under-16 timeout.
However, as Northwestern’s offensive momentum fizzled out, Martin’s hot hand continued to burn. Yet another deep three at the 14:24 mark made it 11 points in 5 and a half minutes for the Bulldogs’ wing, gave Butler a 46-42 lead, and forced Chris Collins into a timeout.
The game then got sloppy on both ends for an extended stretch, with both teams turning the ball over and missing bad shots in equal measure. The impactful guards off the bench for both teams—Brown and Baldwin—traded floaters as the game neared its final ten minutes, with Butler holding on to a five point cushion.
The Wildcat offense then found a groove, with Law scoring in isolation and Dererk Pardon finishing a beautiful sequence of interior passing. Butler countered by pounding it inside to a resurgent Wideman, who scored on a sweeping hook-shot and got to the foul line to maintain the Bulldogs’ two possession advantage.
The Wildcats than caught fire with a massive 10-0 run, sparked by the insertion of Gavin Skelly into the game off the bench. McIntosh, who had been invisible since his five early points, hit a floater, then Skelly found his way to the bucket for two, blocked a shot on the other end, and hit a three in quick succession. He then fed Law, who stayed perfect on the night from deep, capping the run and giving the Wildcats 60-54 lead with under six minutes to play.
Butler battled back with a Chrabascz three and a series of free throws, but McIntosh answered with a crazy corner three of his own to keep the Wildcats in front by two as the 4-minute mark came and went.
The Bulldogs took the lead with 2:07 to play on two free throws from Martin and a nice finish inside from Chrbascz. On the other end they stifled Northwestern, forcing Lindsey and McIntosh into turnovers to allow them the opportunity to take the lead.
Two McIntosh free throws leveled matters, before Pardon fouled out by picking up a needless off-ball foul with 1:39 to play. Wideman sunk both resulting free throws, but the Wildcats answered with a beautiful offensive set that resulted in a layup for Lumpkin.
Lumpkin then did what he does best, drawing an offensive foul on a driving Martin. Northwestern took a 68-67 lead on the resulting possession after Skelly hit 1-2 free throws after being fouled on the offensive glass with 57 seconds remaining.
Then controversy followed as Chrabascz was questionably denied an and-1 opportunity when the refs ruled that he was fouled on the floor before converting a layup. He sank one of his two free throws to tie the game at 68.
McIntosh crucially turned the ball over with 35 seconds left on Northwestern’s opportunity to take the lead.
Butler then took a timeout with 13 seconds remaining to draw up an isolation for Baldwin, who hit a step-back jumper over Gavin Skelly to win the game for the Bulldogs. Northwestern’s last-ditch heave was deflected and Butler escaped with the win.
Northwestern will next face Texas at the Barclays Center on Monday, November 21.