EVANSTON - That sound you hear is Northwestern fans breathing a sigh of relief.
Bryant McIntosh led the way for the Wildcats, scoring 18 points to go along with 6 assists and the go ahead three-pointer with under a minute left. Dererk Pardon was a major contributor as well with 12 points and 8 rebounds. In his much anticipated return to the court, Scottie Lindsey played 24 minutes and scored 6 points.
For Rutgers, the guard combo of Nigel Johnson and Corey Sanders was almost too much for Northwestern, as the duo scored 16 and 17 respectively. C.J. Gettys was a monster on the glass, as he had 9 rebounds overall, but an astonishing 6 offensive rebounds.
For the first time in what seems like weeks, Northwestern got of to a hot start offensively, starting 3-of-5 from the field. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Rutgers was easily able to keep pace, starting 3-of-5 as well and hitting the game’s first three pointer.
Despite a solid start, Northwestern’s offense quickly cooled off, particularly behind the three point line. The Wildcats were 0-of-5 from deep, but after a quick first four minutes of play, held a slim 8-7 lead.
The main offensive force early on for Northwestern was Dererk Pardon, who managed to record 8 points and 7 rebounds just seven minutes into the game. But due to poor outside shooting, Rutgers was able to hang around. Ten minutes into the game Dererk Pardon was 4-of-5 from the field, while the rest of Northwestern was 4-of-13.
Northwestern finally began to pull away with around eight minutes left in the half, as it ripped off a 9-0 run highlighted by a transition Nate Taphorn three-pointer. The Wildcats’ first made three pointer of the game forced Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell to call a timeout with Northwestern leading 23-17.
Rutgers hit a couple of shots out of the timeout to cut the lead, but another Taphorn three-pointer and a Vic Law alley-oop brought the lead right back up to 7. Then Law answered a Mike Williams three-pointer with one of his own and suddenly both offenses were hot.
A floater and three-pointer from Lindsey sandwiched a Nigel Johnson three-pointer during a stretch in which both teams just couldn’t miss. After the two teams combined for just 33 points in the first ten minutes, they scored 20 in just the last five minutes of the half, with most of the Scarlet Knights’ offense running through Johnson. After a hot shooting first half for both teams, Northwestern led 39-36.
Coming out of the half, Northwestern’s offense ground to a screeching halt. The Wildcats only scored four points over the first seven minutes—including a five minute scoreless drought—and allowed Rutgers to take a 47-43 lead.
Scottie Lindsey finally ended the drought with a free throw, but Corey Sanders immediately answered with a jumper on the other end.
Suddenly Welsh-Ryan Arena was eerily quiet.
McIntosh managed to wake up the crowd with a midrange jumper, but Sanders again answered with a layup. Johnson then proceeded to hit one of two from the line and suddenly Northwestern trailed by 6 with under 10 minutes to go.
Over the course of 10 minutes, Rutgers had managed a 12-3 extended run, holding Northwestern to just one made field goal. Northwestern managed to score for the first time in over three minutes on a pair of Isiah Brown free throws, but Eugene Omoruyi had a putback on the other end off yet another offensive rebound, Rutgers’ 16th of the game.
Then the Wildcats finally woke up.
Gavin Skelly managed to ignite the crowd with a three-pointer, and after the two teams traded layups, the deficit was down to three. Two Dererk Pardon free throws cut it to one. But Sanders—with the Welsh-Ryan crowd going bananas—hit a ridiculous pull-up three-pointer as the shot clock was expiring to put Rutgers back up 59-55 and silence the Northwestern faithful.
McIntosh and Johnson traded free throws to make it 61-57, before two more McIntosh free throws forced Rutgers to call a timeout up 2.
After Sanders missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Skelly hit a corner three to send Welsh-Ryan Arena into absolute pandemonium. With the Wildcats now only down one, McIntosh hit a pull-up three-pointer to give Northwestern a two point lead with less than a minute left.
Following a Sanders miss, McIntosh hit one at the line to put Northwestern up 66-63. Rutgers turned the ball over almost immediately on the other end, and a Vic Law free throw put the game away.
Sanders made a layup with 3.2 seconds on the clock, but it was too little, too late.
Isiah Brown hit two free throws at the end, and the Wildcats had survived, barely.