Our game preview pinpointed Northwestern's ability to limit Purdue's bigs as the Wildcats' only chance at victory. They failed to do so, and Purdue predictably cruised to a victory on Tuesday night in West Lafayette, 71-61.
As has often been the case in road Big Ten games, Northwestern dug itself a hole early. Purdue clearly sought to take advantage of their size inside, making a concerted effort to attack Alex Olah early. 7-footer A.J. Hammons scored Purdue's first four points with a jump-hook and a 15-foot jumper.
Northwestern missed its first seven shots, including two missed threes from Alex Olah, who came into the contest shooting less than 1 triple per game. The Wildcats struggled to get any opportunities close to the basket—five of their first six shots were from behind the three-point line—and were scoreless at the the under-16 media timeout.
A Johnny Hill leaner in the lane and a Dakota Mathias three pushed the Boilermakers' advantage to 8-0 before Gavin Skelly, who replaced Sanjay Lumpkin early, connected on a triple of his own. Skelly continued his strong, well-rounded play off the bench, and showed an ability to pass out of the high post, a skill Northwestern's other bigs lack.
Purdue's size advantage caused Northwestern's frontcourt to get in foul trouble. Olah, Pardon, van Zegeren and Skelly all picked up two fouls before the half.
After missing its first eight shots, Northwestern connected on its next four to prevent the game from getting out of reach. At the under-12, Northwestern trailed only 14-9 but continued to struggle to generate open looks. Sets often seemed to end in high-ball screens deep in the shot clock.
Northwestern wouldn't score for the next 5:10, and a 6-0 Purdue run allowed the Boilermakers to open up an 11-point lead and forced Chris Collins to take a timeout.
After starting 1-of-10 from three, Tre Demps and Aaron Falzon connected on consecutive triples. Despite being thoroughly outplayed in the early going, Northwestern found itself down just 21-15 with 7:18 to go. Foul trouble was beginning to become an issue, as both Pardon and Olah had two fouls, and Purdue entered the bonus with seven minutes before the break.
Every time Northwestern tried to close the gap, Purdue was able to find a way to score. The Boilermakers countered with a 6-0 run to extend the lead to 12 with 5 minutes left. Northwestern missed countless open looks, including two wide-open threes from Falzon, and Joey van Zegeren failed to convert an alley-oop from McIntosh.
Northwestern's sheer lack of size was unfortunately apparent in the first half, particularly in the rebounding department. Purdue outrebounded Northwestern 26-15 in the opening 20 minutes but perhaps most alarmingly, Purdue notched 12 offensive rebounds to NU's only 9 defensive boards.
Hammons led Purdue with 11 points and 7 rebounds at the intermission, and showed his range by connecting on multiple mid-range jumpers. But a three-point play from McIntosh, followed by a three from Demps, who scored 10 in the first half, helped Northwestern close the half on a 6-0 run of its own. Purdue went into the locker room up 35-27.
Northwestern opened the half on a 7-4 run thanks to an Olah three and runners from Demps and Falzon. Purdue coach Matt Painter took a quick timeout to try and halt the Wildcats' newfound momentum. The run injected some life into Northwestern, which began to defend with more intensity and actually forced a few turnovers early. At one point in the second half, Purdue had missed 10 consecutive field goal attempts.
Out of the under-16 timeout, Skelly split a pair of free throws and Northwestern found itself down just 39-35. NU's defense kept Purdue from scoring but continued to rack up fouls. Pardon picked up his fourth with 14:17 remaining, forcing Collins to replace him with van Zegeren. Purdue was in the bonus with more than 13 minutes left in regulation. Four straight free throws for the Boilermakers pushed the lead to 45-37.
Olah split a pair at the line before missing yet another three-point attempt. He finished 1-for-6 for the contest from behind the arc, clear evidence he should not set up shop behind the arc as much as he did tonight. The foul trouble for Northwestern's bigs forced Collins to rotate Pardon, Olah, Skelly and van Zegeren regardless of their respective effectiveness.
Purdue wasn't able to score much from the field, but the Boilermakers' free throw advantage allowed them to hold onto their narrow lead. A Bryant McIntosh layup pulled Northwestern within six points with 9:56 to go.
Pardon fouled out with just under 9 minutes to play, and Ryan Cline's second three of the game was answered by a strong and successful Demps drive, which let Northwestern continue to hang around. At the under-8 timeout, Purdue was ahead 54-48.
Then, Cline and Hill hit consecutive threes to blow the game open. Collins took a timeout at 5:35 with his team down 62-50, but it was already too late. A Hammons layup all but sealed the outcome, but NU wouldn't go away quietly. A 7-0 run gave the Wildcats a glimmer of hope, but they just couldn't get the necessary stops down the stretch.
When the proceedings wrapped up at Mackey Arena, Purdue emerged as 71-61 winners.
--Northwestern got destroyed on the glass, which killed any chance of an upset. Purdue outrebounded Northwestern 45-24, posting an offensive rebounding percentage of 52.8 and defensive rebounding percentage of 78.8. It's not easy to win when your opponent is controlling the glass at that level and it's not particularly shocking given Purdue's size advantage. What is surprising is that the Wildcats hung around as long as they did with that drastic a disparity.
--Purdue's size gave Northwestern problems all night, but perhaps where it was most noticeable was in the foul department. Northwestern found it difficult to defend Purdue's athletic big men all night and resorted to fouling. The Boilermakers shot 20 more free throws than Northwestern and made 16 more. Of course, final deficit was 10 points.
--All things considered, Northwestern played decently well, particularly in the second half. Things looked bleak in the first half, but NU stayed the course and looked more fluid offensively in the second half.
--That being said, the first half offense was ugly. It was stunningly predictable and ineffective. It seems as though if teams complete their due diligence, Northwestern is going to struggle to score.
--I didn't realize Hammons had that kind of range. Impressive.