EVANSTON — When Bryant McIntosh was called for his second foul with 17:15 left in the first half, Isiah Brown knew he was going to have to step up.
While Brown’s career-high 19 points weren’t enough to help Northwestern overcome an even better performance from Melo Trimble (he scored 32 points, also a career-high) on Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan, it definitely made the Terrapins take notice.
“I told my players ‘this is one confident kid,’” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said about Brown, who played 26 minutes and shot 6-of-15 from the field. “He was terrific. He gave them a chance.”
Brown is used to the spotlight. He is the all-time leading scorer of the Metro League, his high school conference, and averaged 33.8 points per game in his senior year. On two occasions at Lakeside School in Seattle, he scored 50+ points. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in talent-rich Washington.
As a true freshman in Evanston, he has had to take a backseat to McIntosh, the clear starter. However, the Scottie Lindsey injury gave Brown a chance to move in the starting lineup — at least for a few games — which seems to have gotten him on track, even after Chris Collins moved him back to the bench.
“I thought he was confident tonight,” Collins said. “He’s not afraid. We needed him to be aggressive and to attack, so I was proud of him. He gave us a real boost and a lot of energy.”
After a Trimble three-point play at the 6:32 mark of the second half put Maryland up 62-42, all seem lost. The Wildcats hung around with the Terps for awhile, but this felt like a game-ending play. Even the Welsh-Ryan crowd, which wasn’t give much to cheer for all night, seemed resigned to a disappointing but unsurprising loss three days after one of the biggest wins a Northwestern basketball team has ever had.
Then, Brown took over. He responded with his own three-point play on a driving layup which began a 15-4 run for Northwestern that cut the Maryland lead to nine. Brown scored nine of those 15 points and could have really blown the roof off the soon-to-renovated house had he made a three with just over two minutes to play.
“My main focus is that any time I’m out there, I try to make a positive contribution,” Brown said. “When you have a major part of your starting five go down, you have to make some adjustments.”
The three was a good look, but it bounced high off the back rim and then into the arms of another freshman, Maryland’s Kevin Huerter. On the other end, Damonte Dodd rebounded Huerter’s missed jumper and put it back to push the lead back to 11. The eighth and final offensive rebound allowed by Northwestern was the costliest.
Even with the loss, Northwestern is still in a pretty good position for the tournament home stretch. The Wildcats welcome Rutgers into town on Saturday and could get Lindsey back, so if that’s not considered a likely win, nothing is.
Brown’s play was certainly the most promising part of the night. The shooting numbers on the season are still ugly; he was under 35 percent from the field and under 30 percent from three, which won’t continue to cut it. His shot selection, owing to his ball-dominant high school days, can be questionable at times. But without Lindsey, this team needs a play-maker if McIntosh and Vic Law aren’t playing well. Brown is that player at the moment, and Northwestern won’t complain too much with him coming off the bench.
Maryland’s own standout freshman point guard — Anthony Cowan — posted 13 points to go with six rebounds and six assists, making for a fun matchup between young guards. He was helped by Trimble dominant performance, though, as he didn’t have to be “the guy” tonight.
For the Wildcats, Brown usually isn’t that either, but with his play in the second half Wednesday, he can fill that role if needed and he showed that against the Big Ten’s best backcourt.