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Northwestern vs. Rutgers Final Score: Wildcats use scorching-hot first half to cruise past Rutgers 83-61

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A 31-0 run in the first half powered the Wildcats to a blowout win in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Northwestern vs Rutgers Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON, D.C. — There would be no drama this time.

After needing a flurry of late three-pointers to earn a comeback win over Rutgers (15-18, 3-15 B1G) in Evanston February 18th, Northwestern (22-10, 10-8 B1G) came to the nation’s capital and dominated the Scarlet Knights 83-61 to advance to the third round of the Big Ten Tournament, where the Wildcats will take on Maryland on Friday night.

Vic Law Jr. and Scottie Lindsey led the way for the Wildcats, scoring 16 points apiece in the win. Pardon and McIntosh each chipped in 13 points themselves, in what was a balanced scoring attack throughout the night.

The game off to a sizzling hot start when Dererk Pardon — like he seemingly always does — got things going for the Wildcats with a basket on the opening possession, tipping in a missed floater from Bryant McIntosh. But, C.J. Gettys answered on the next possession and with lay-in of his own.

The Wildcats continued to score with relative ease in the following minutes, with Law Jr. hitting a pair of free throws and Pardon throwing down a two-handed slam. Issa Thiam, a 29 percent three-point shooter coming into the game, hit his first two threes of the night, though, giving the Scarlet Knights a 9-6 lead early on.

But then the Wildcats made their charge. A mid-range jumper and a corner three from Law Jr. sandwiched a mid-range jumper from McIntosh, which extended the lead to 13-9.

Northwestern began to get some stops defensively by forcing contested looks on the interior, and good ball movement on the other end of the floor lead to back-to-back threes from Nathan Taphorn and Law Jr. forced Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell to call a timeout with the score with 12:24 remaining in the first half and the Wildcats leading 19-9.

Then Scottie Lindsey got into the act with a three of his own, before Pardon knocked down a short jumper and had another dunk to push the Wildcats’ scoring run to 20-0. Rutgers struggled to get anything going offensively, taking contested shot after contested shot around the basket.

The Wildcats’ offense continued its scoring explosion, with a Gavin Skelly put-back, an electrifying alley-oop by Law Jr., a Sanjay Lumpkin three and a Pardon layup coming on four consecutive possessions to make the scoring run 29-0. Northwestern led 35-9 at this point after starting the game 14-of-21 from the floor and 5-of-8 from three.

Rutgers finally ended the scoring run at 31-0 with a Nigel Johnson three with 6:02 left in the first half, capping a scoreless stretch that lasted nearly of 11 minutes. The Wildcats then got sloppy on the offensive end, which allowed the Scarlet Knights to get some easy looks in transition and go on a 7-0 spurt of their own, which prompted Chris Collins to call a timeout with 4:04 to play in the first half and his team leading 37-16.

Scottie Lindsey hit a pair of free throws and a three on consecutive possession to get the Northwestern offensive back on track, though another Thiam three and a Corey Sanders layup made the score 42-21.

The Scarlet Knights’ soft press made it more difficult for the Wildcats to get into their sets late in the half; Northwestern missed seven of its final eight shots in the first half. Still, Northwestern went into halftime leading 42-24, in large part thanks to that huge 31-0 run that spanned over 11 minutes of game time.

Law Jr. led the way with 12 first half points, and while Pardon added 10 points and five rebounds and Lindsey chipped in eight points four rebounds and four assists.

Rutgers got off to a quick start in the second half when Gettys found Sanders for an alley-oop on the first possession. Law Jr. responded with an easy two off an in-bounds play on the other end before Lindsey and Deshawn Freeman traded twos to make the score 46-28 in favor of the Wildcats.

Sanders and Johnson got some easier looks by attacking the rim — like they did the last time these two teams met — but two floaters from Bryant McIntosh and a Gavin Skelly three-point play kept the lead hovering around 20. There was cause for concern when Pardon hobbled off the court in the middle of the second half, but his return shortly afterward assuaged those concerns. A pair of Freeman free throws and a Gettys layup shrunk the lead to 53-37 at the under-12 timeout.

A pair of free throws from Law Jr. and a floater by Lindsey quickly pushed the lead back to 20, before a McIntosh transition three forced Steve Pikiell to call a timeout with 10:35 remaining in the game and his team down 60-37.

The Rutgers guards persisted in their efforts to attack the rim, which led to a pair of baskets out of the timeout. The Northwestern offense kept humming, though, by way of a reverse lay-up by Lindsey, three free throws (one from Pardon and two from Lumpkin) and a McIntosh lay-up. At the under-8, the Wildcats led 67-41.

After a series of foul shots for both teams, Lindsey hit another jumper, though Johnson hit threes on back-to-back possessions for the Scarlet Knights. Isiah Brown hit a theres on his first shot attempt of the night, and McIntosh had another driving lay-up to push to the lead to 78-53, before Collins took a timeout with 3:15 to play.

From there, the Wildcats cruised to victory. In the waning moments, walk-on Charlie Hall some action in front of his parent, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Brad Hall, entering the game with 1:07 to play and grabbing two rebounds during his time on the floor.

Takeaways

  1. After struggling with their shots against Purdue, Lindsey and Law Jr. gave Northwestern a major boost by going 11-of-18 from the floor and combining for 32 points. When those two are on, the Wildcats’ offense looks completely different.
  2. Northwestern did hit shots, but Rutgers looked completely discombobulated on both ends of the floor in the first half. The Scarlet Knights’ offense was brutally stagnant during the 31-0 run in the first half. Part of those struggles was certainly a result of strong Northwestern defense, but Rutgers didn’t move the ball or put any significant pressure on the Northwestern bigs during that stretch.
  3. Isiah Brown has completely fallen out of the rotation. After playing big minutes in the beginning and middle portions of Big Ten play, the freshman guard has seen few minutes down the stretch of the season. His inability to guard without fouling on the defensive end makes it hard for Collins to keep him in the game; he didn’t play in the first half Saturday, and was pulled after just two minutes on the floor in his first stint of game action. He did get some run toward the end of the game, but the game was all but over by that point.