Oh, so that’s what Northwestern was supposed to look like this year.
The Wildcats (11-7, 2-3 Big Ten) shined on both offense and defense in a dominant first half and cruised to a 83-60 victory over a depleted Minnesota (13-5, 2-3) team on Wednesday night at Allstate Arena. Sporting a fresh haircut, Scottie Lindsey led all scorers with 22 points. Dererk Pardon had a big day inside with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 6 blocks. Bryant McIntosh set a Northwestern single-game record with 16 assists and chipped in 11 points for a double-double of his own.
Northwestern shot the lights out from deep, hitting 11 of 24 shots from beyond the arc. The Wildcats won the rebounding battle 45-26 and held the Gophers to just 31 percent shooting from the field.
Minnesota, already missing half of its big four due to injury and suspension, got nothing from All-Big Ten players Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy in the first half and found itself facing an insurmountable 43-21 deficit at halftime. Murphy, one of the best players in the country, only played 7 minutes in the first half due to foul trouble and Mason was held without a field goal in the opening period.
Northwestern came out of the gates locked in defensively. Using a 2-3 zone, the Wildcats set the tone on the game’s first possession by aggressively rotating and forcing a shot clock violation. That defensive energy would remain present throughout the night.
The game got off to a sloppy start offensively for both teams. 6 and half minutes in, Minnesota held a 9-8 lead.
Then Northwestern got hot.
Over the next 12 minutes, the Wildcats went on a 33-8 run. The run featured four threes and this highlight-reel lob from McIntosh to Pardon.
While Northwestern was firing on all cylinders offensively, Minnesota was struggling mightily on that end without Murphy. Mason, clearly bothered by Vic Law’s length, went 0-for-5 from the field in the first half. Murphy and Mason, who average 35 points per game on the year, finished with just 17.
The Gophers would get within 15 points in the second half, but their dreadful first half performance was too much to overcome. The funniest moment of the game came when Gavin Skelly tried to put his missed dunk back in while still hanging from the rim, and was T’d up for it.
Northwestern was never truly challenged down the stretch as the fans in Rosemont were treated to B-Mac assist after B-Mac assist.
- This was Northwestern’s best game of the season. I understand that Minnesota didn’t have much to work with already and that Murphy missed most of the first half, but the Wildcats were ready to play from the tip-off. Their communication and body language all looked much better than in the Penn State and Nebraska games.
- Anthony Gaines is noticeably better that he was early in the season. The freshman played 17 minutes, his most in any Big Ten game, and was all over the place. He finished with 3 points, 6 boards, 2 assists and 2 steals, using his athleticism to wreak havoc on the glass and on defense. At one point, he went coast to coast (while Collins was yelling at him to pass), and drew a foul at the rim. He would’ve never had the confidence to do that earlier in the season.
- Speaking of solid performances from the bench, Gavin Skelly had another nice night for Northwestern. He put up 8 points and 5 rebounds and continues to be the Cats’ most efficient three-point shooter (2-for-2 on the night). Aaron Falzon, starting in Skelly’s place, hit a trio of threes, including back-to-back swishes in the second half.
- Bryant McIntosh the scorer struggled to the tune of 4-for-13 from the floor, but Bryant McIntosh the distributor was fantastic. Sporting a 15/13 assist-to-turnover ratio in NU’s first four Big Ten games, B-Mac dished out 16 assists WITHOUT A SINGLE TURNOVER on Wednesday. More of that, please.
- This was fun and all, but Northwestern needs this win to spark a lengthy winning streak if it wants to really make this season interesting again. The Cats still have work to do even to get back into the NIT conversation, let alone anything more. Next up? A road test against Indiana at 3:30 on Sunday.