EVANSTON, Ill. - From tip-off to the final whistle, Northwestern was finally able to put all the pieces together on Thursday night. The Wildcats' big 82-58 victory over the lowly Minnesota Golden Gophers snapped their five-game losing streak in resounding fashion at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The Wildcats came out firing in the first half with Tre Demps continuing a hot streak and Aaron Falzon bouncing back after a poor shooting performance against Iowa. Both players hit early threes to get an early rhythm going that would last all game.
Northwestern played the Chameleon defense that worked so well for theWIldcats against Minnesota in The Barn back in January and the Golden Gophers just couldn't solve it, scoring just eight points in the game's first five minutes. They struggled to find good shots throughout the evening.
While effective early on, the defense did lead to some missed assignments which Minnesota was able to take advantage of. The few breakdowns in communication and exhausting nature of the zone defense allowed the Gophers to score baskets quickly in transition.
The first substitution proved difficult for the Wildcats who could not get in sync without Falzon or Bryant McIntosh on the floor. During this stretch, Tre Demps drove to the basket and looked up to find someone open outside, but all four Northwestern players remained in or around the paint.
When McIntosh checked back in, though, he continued to carry the team by scoring consistently, as he, Demps, and Falzon all had eight points in the first half, in which the Wildcats comfortably outscored Minnesota 37-23.
The defensive difficulties seemed to dissipate for the Wildcats as they night progressed and the scoring-troubled Gophers couldn't get anything to fall, either on the perimeter or at the rim. Senior center Alex Olah finished the first half with two blocks in two consecutive plays that cemented a strong 20-minute period of play for Chris Collins' team.
The rest of the game proved much less difficult for Northwestern, which opened up the second half with 10 of the first 14 points, opening up a 20-point advantage by the under-16 timeout.
Then, just a few minutes, Minnesota fans started to file out of Welsh-Ryan Arena as McIntosh and Demps put the game away with 10 consecutive points between the two of them. The duo gave Northwestern a 26-point lead with two threes, one breakaway layup, and two jumpers, which essentially sealed away the win for the home team with plenty of time left in regulation.
On Demps’ last basket of the stretch, McIntosh broke Northwestern’s single-season assist record with his 158th dime of the year as a solid milestone during one of the Wildcats' easier wins of the year. Demps and McIntosh dominated the entire game, scoring 23 and 20 points, respectively, as the Wildcats never looked back following their big start.
Northwestern's "chameleon" actually worked.
The "chameleon" defense, though ineffective against ranked opponents in recent games, proved successful against the Gophers. The Wildcats introduced this defensive scheme in early January against Minnesota but, despite seeing it before, the visiting team was ill-prepared. It will be interesting to see how Northwestern plans to use this defense in their upcoming matchups, especially against Ohio State in Columbus on Tuesday.
Dererk Pardon can play serious minutes.
Freshman Dererk Pardon earned his first start of the season and played the majority of the minutes at center. Against a slightly larger opponent in Charles Buggs, Pardon used his strength to grab rebounds, both offensive and defensive. As fellow centers Olah and Joey van Zegeren continue to heal from their injuries, expect Pardon to continue to play such an expanded role.
The Wildcats were in a groove all game.
Besides a short stretch in the first half, the ball did not stop moving when Northwestern was on offense. The Wildcats' ball movement, quickness, and decisiveness allowed them to take better shots and score almost twice as many points as the Gophers in the paint. If they can continue to play at this pace on both sides of the ball, Northwestern will be able to catch many teams off-guard.