On a chilly night in Evanston, Northwestern (8-2) were surprisingly given a massive fight from the Chicago State Cougars but escaped with a thrilling 68-64 win. Chicago State (3-7) hit a dizzying series of long-range efforts to make it a contest.
Late in the fourth quarter, after a stunning barrage of threes left Northwestern battling for the lead, the Wildcats found big plays from Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law to eke out a win at home. A loss would have been catastrophic for the Wildcats and tremendous for a struggling Chicago State program which had lost 25 of its last 26 Division I games. But in the end, the Cougars just couldn’t make enough wild plays down the stretch to bottle up Northwestern. But they came very, very close.
The Wildcats hit just two of their first 12 shots, coming out ice cold despite getting some pretty good looks. At the under-12 timeout, the hosts led just 11-9.
But then the Wildcats began to make some space for themselves, hitting six of their next 12. At the under-4, despite being just 10 of 30 from the field, the hosts led 27-14.
It was the defensive end that helped the Wildcats build separation. The Cougars, despite hitting four threes, could not get much going. They turned it over 10 times in the first 17:08 of the game, allowing Northwestern to get some easy transition looks.
But Northwestern was unable to pull away by the end of the half as the Wildcats’ shooting woes continued. Northwestern’s halftime lead was still 29-21, but with the team’s field goal percentage at 29.7, Chris Collins was far from pleased. Vic Law led the team with 10 points at the break, but the game was not completely over. Far from it.
Northwestern regressed back to the mean at the start of the second half, starting 3 of 4 from the field before the first media timeout. The Northwestern lead stretched back to double digits, but Chicago State hit two ridiculous contested three-pointers to keep the game interesting.
Northwestern appeared to be in control once Deionte Simmons picked up a technical foul for elbowing Sanjay Lumpkin at the 13:30 mark. McIntosh hit both free throws and Northwestern went up by 12.
Then everything went to hell in a handbasket. It felt Chicago State could not miss from three. Chicago State hit three consecutive three-pointers from impossible angles to make it a one-point game within two minutes. Suddenly, Northwestern was in a dogfight as the Cougars suddenly brimmed with confidence.
It just wouldn’t stop. Northwestern wasn’t playing horrendous defense, but Chicago State’s Brian Greene Jr. hit another wild three-pointer. A Fred Sims Jr. free-throw gave Chicago State an improbable 47-46 lead.
Northwestern retook the lead on a Lumpkin midrange jumper but Sims promptly hit another three from the corner that put the Cougars back up 50-48. Northwestern tied it, but then, Chicago State’s Trayvon Palmer launched from the paint and delivered an emphatic dunk that put Chicago State up 52-50. It came off a pick and roll that NU helped much too hard on, afraid to give up another three..
At this point, every diehard Northwestern basketball fan watching on BTN felt the weight of history. The failure and disappointment of endless decades of futility heaped on a multitude of shoulders. Vic Law missed a jumper. Bryant McIntosh missed a scoop shot.
But Chicago State’s offensive execution also began to falter, and the Cougars could not extend their lead when it counted. McIntosh finally found Lindsey for an easy layup and another McIntosh jumper put Northwestern up 54-52. Vic Law proceeded to hit a three that put Northwestern up 57-52 with 4:58 remaining. However, any longtime Northwestern fan knew better than to draw a sigh of relief.
Fifty-one seconds and one turnover later, Chicago State had pulled within three. Skelly answered with a layup but Chicago State’s Anthony Eaves hit a jumper to keep it a one-possession game. Unsurprisingly, the Cougars hit another contested jumper to make it a one-point game, but McIntosh answered with a clutch three-pointer to put Northwestern up by four, and a pick-and-roll with Skelly put the hosts up six.
But Eaves hit another ridiculous three from Peoria to keep it a one-possession game because...well, it’s Northwestern basketball. But Lumpkin leaked out of the pressure after a Chicago State timeout and drove to the basket for the clinching layup. A pair of Bryant McIntosh free throws were answered by another absurd three from Sims Jr. It was too little, too late, however. Northwestern survived to win 68-64.
1. Bryant McIntosh really continues to struggle with his shot. He shot just 4 of 14 and had an ugly airball on a wide open three in the first half, the second time he’s done that during this homestand. He couldn’t get his floater going, either. But, he deserves tremendous credit for his play down the stretch.
2. The Wildcats struggled against a second-half press, turning the ball over eight times.
3. Chicago State was borderline insane from deep. Fred Sims Jr. made seven shots, all of which were threes. Trayvon Palmer was very efficient too, going 7 of 13 from the floor and knocking down a three himself. The three pointer is known as the great equalizer, and it certainly was tonight. The visitors made a ton of shots that were essentially indefensible.
4. It was not pretty, but winning this game was absolsutely huge. It’s a game Northwestern could not have lost if it has any postseason aspirations. They got it done.
5. Vic Law quietly had a solid game. He missed some makable shots, but he led the way with 18 points. His play down the stretch was key. He added 4 rebounds and 4 assists.