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Throwback Thursday: PLAGUE BASKETBALL (Northwestern 51, Rutgers 47)

My eyes, they’re burning.

NCAA Basketball: Seton Hall at Rutgers Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

It was the dawning of a new era for the Big Ten. After the dizzying conference realignments of the early 2010s, the Big Ten had added Rutgers and Maryland to its ranks, expanding the conference to 14 “elite” programs. It was time to get started on a refreshing and exciting new Big Ten—

Haha, okay, enough with that. Northwestern had the pleasure of traveling to Piscataway for Rutgers’ first conference game as a full member of the Big Ten. You can be sure there were thrilling times to be had in New Jersey on December 30th, 2014, as the world turned to see Eddie Jordan’s Scarlet Knights face off against Chris Collins and the Northwestern Wildcats.

But guess what! Northwestern and Rutgers played one of the worst basketball games you’ll ever see, and specifically one of the worst halves of the entire Chris Collins era. There’s no better way to welcome in the New Year and the new eternity of Rutger in the Big Ten than a 51-47 slugfest at the RAC. Northwestern would not win another conference game until February 15th. Rutgers lost 16 Big Ten games that season. It was plague basketball. It was really, really bad. Both teams combined for two points over eight minutes. The average points per possession for both offenses was 0.79. The overall shooting percentage was 34 percent.

Amazingly, the game opened with three consecutive three pointers, two from Rutgers, one from Bryant McIntosh, that put Northwestern in an early 6-3 deficit. This was, honestly, the most efficient offensive production that both teams would produce for the entire game.

Rutgers came out firing, opening up a 17-10 lead after 10 minutes. Obviously, you could already tell this wasn’t going to be much of a high scoring affair. Northwestern was averaging 1 point per minute, and everyone seemed to be struggling. Then Rutger did a nice thing and didn’t score a point for 4 minutes. I’d like to credit this to Northwestern’s defense, but Ken Pomeroy’s stats put Northwestern’s defense at a solid 151st in the country in 2014-15 (13th in the Big Ten). So maybe Northwestern’s defense was good, but the four missed shots and a turnover from the Scarlet Knights really helped. By halftime, a Tre Demps-fueled run put Northwestern up 27-22.

The young nucleus of the squad that would make the 2017 NCAA Tournament was still crawling from the primordial ooze. Bryant McIntosh was the MVP of this game, his first-ever conference game, but it was an average performance by any standard. He went 5-for-11 from the field with two threes and 17 total points. Vic Law, on the other hand, was still in early freshman Vic Law-mode, which meant he played for 10 minutes and scored zero points. Gavin Skelly played 6 minutes and had no points. Nate Taphorn played 2 minutes, missed a three and committed a turnover. Sanjay Lumpkin had an extremely Sanjay Lumpkin game, which is all you need to know.

The second half featured even worse basketball, which is difficult to imagine, but sadly very true. The first ten minutes of the second half had a semblance of reality, as both teams combined for 30 points with semi-efficient basketball. Rutgers’ Greg Lewis was doing things, Alex Olah made back-to-back free throws, everything was rolling for both teams. By the time the scorer reached 44-35 Northwestern with 10:50 to go, it looked like we’d have a fairly high-scoring contest, despite the pedestrian first half.

Eight minutes later, the score was 44-37. Eight full minutes of basketball. Two points. Tell me, have you ever played a competitive basketball game in which two points were scored over eight minutes? This game had referees who could call ticky-tack fouls and a shot clock and other modern advancements to increase scoring. Here’s a play-by-play of those beautiful eight minutes of futility.

Northwestern possessions between 10:50-0:29: Demps missed three, BMac missed jumper, Cobb turnover, Demps turnover, BMac turnover, Olah missed three, Lumpkin missed three, BMac, turnover, Demps missed jumper, BMac missed layup, Cobb missed three, Demps misses front end of a 1-and-1, BMac turnover, Demps misses front end of a 1-and-1, Lumpkin misses front end of a 1-and-1

This has to be the worst ten minutes of offense in the Chris Collins Era. Northwestern amassed 7 missed shots, 5 turnovers, and 3 missed free throws. But they never relinquished the lead, because here’s what Rutger did.

Rutger possessions: Etou turnover, Jack miss, Jack gets offensive board and sinks one free throw, Daniels miss, Jack miss, Jack miss, Jack steal, Mack miss, Etou is fouled by Olah and goes to the line to make 1-of-2, Williams missed layup, Lewis turnover, Mack miss, Etou miss

Then Rutgers made two free throws and a layup to make it 44-41 with 1:39 to go. Mind you, Northwestern STILL HADN’T SCORED SINCE 10:50 REMAINING. And they wouldn’t score until there 29 seconds remaining in the game. Yes, Northwestern’s crunch time unit failed to score for 10 minutes and 21 seconds, and the Wildcats still won the game 51-47 because Rutgers ran out of time to mount a comeback and had to start fouling.

This is a segment of the win probability graph for that stretch of time.

Observe how Northwestern’s win probability INCREASES from 86.7 percent to 93.7 percent while they are busy not scoring a single point for a quarter of the game.



(Please, dear readers, find me another game in which a team’s win probability increases by 7 percent despite scoring no points.)

Here are the official highlights from Northwestern, with the plague basketball segments erased like a doctor in Stalin’s Soviet Union.

We’re done here, folks. That’s enough basketball for a lifetime.