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Inability to defend three-point line dooms Wildcats in blowout loss to Purdue

The Boilermakers’ sharpshooting was just too much for the Wildcats.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. - Sometimes the other team just doesn’t miss.

Northwestern learned that the hard way Wednesday night at Mackey Arena as the Purdue Boilermakers shot 52 percent from downtown on their way to an easy 80-59 victory.

After missing its first three-pointer to start the game, Purdue hit six of its next seven attempts from deep and four in a row as it went on a 12-0 run early on that set the tone for a first half that would put the game out of reach.

The run negated a decent start from Northwestern and buried the team in a hole that it just couldn’t climb out of. The Wildcats played pretty well in the second half, winning it by 1, but it was too little, too late.

“The three point shooting was certainly the story of the game in the first half,” head coach Chris Collins said. “I think they made some great shots, they really shared it and they’re a very good team and they got us tonight.”

More importantly, the barrage of threes forced Northwestern to change its defensive strategy on Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas down low. From the get go, Northwestern was quickly doubling both Purdue big men and forcing them to either pass out of the double or throw up a bad shot. It worked great through the first five minutes, as Purdue turned the ball over 4 times, and both Swanigan and Haas looked out of sorts.

But then the threes started falling.

“I mean it just opens everything up because then defensively you get guys trying to overdo it and then they’re worried about the three pointer when they’re playing defense,” Vince Edwards said. “It opens up everything, it opens up the lane, and then you’ve got guys over helping, and you’ve got your teammates wide open.”

The Boilermakers ended the first half shooting 9-of-14 from deep, and while that in of itself is impressive, their sharpshooting also opened up the paint for Swanigan. The Purdue star sophomore put up 24 points and 16 rebounds on the game in another dominant performance. He was a bruiser in the paint but also showed his versatility by going 2-of-4 from three.

Swanigan lead the team in scoring, but for a while, Edwards was the star of the show. He was the main force behind the early Purdue tsunami that swallowed the Wildcats, scoring 12 of his 17 points and shooting 4-of-5 from three-point land in the first half (Edwards finished 5-of-7 from deep).

“With [Swanigan] you know you got to double team him and for us to knock down shots it just helps him out in the post even more,” Edwards said. “So now you’ve just got to pick your poison, and those guys just did a great job of getting the ball out on the double team.”

To make matter worse for Northwestern, its own three-point shooting was ice cold for the entire game. While the stat sheet says Northwestern shot 2-of-14 from three, it was even worse in reality. The Wildcats didn’t hit a three until there was 4:58 left in the game and they trailed by 22.

“I thought they were very physical defensively,” said Collins. “I think they put a lot of emphasis on getting into our perimeter players and it was effective; they’re a good team for a reason.”

For a direct comparison, Northwestern started the game 0-for-10 from three while Purdue made 6-of-10. That 18 point margin is pretty much the difference in the game. With Scottie Lindsey ill, the Wildcats were playing without one of their best three-point shooters and a quick, lengthy perimeter defender.

For Northwestern, it was a nightmare scenario. The Wildcats have shot fairly well from deep all season, at 36 percent, and came in as the best Big Ten team in three point defense, holding opponents to 31 percent shooting. But on Wednesday night, everything beyond the arc went Purdue’s way. 36 percent dropped to 14 percent and 31 percent ballooned all the way up to 52 percent and a 21-point road loss.

Despite the ugly margin, it was still an expected road loss to a ranked team, and Northwestern will try to wipe it from its memory.

“I just think we have to be the team we’ve been,” Collins said. “You can’t overreact to one game. They did a good job, we’ll look at the film, we’ll see what we need to do to improve offensively, but I’m not going to overreact, we have a good team in our locker room. We’re confident.”