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Northwestern-Nebraska rapid reaction: Wildcats struggle without McIntosh in 70-55 loss

McIntosh’s absence was too great to overcome.

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Without Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern (10-6, 1-2) fell 70-55 to Nebraska (11-5, 2-1) in disappointing fashion. Behind a combined 37 points from Glynn Watson Jr. and James Palmer Jr. and some terrific defense, the Cornhuskers were able to get the road victory.

After sustaining a knee injury against Brown on Saturday, McIntosh missed a game for the first time in his Northwestern career. Prior to tonight, he had played in 115 straight games. Jordan Ash got his fourth start of the season in McIntosh’s place.

His absence was felt in the opening minutes, as Northwestern struggled to get good shots in the halfcourt. There were several possessions where the Wildcats had to throw up some difficult looks late in the shot clock because they couldn’t create any openings in Nebraska’s defense. Nebraska held Northwestern to 29.2 percent from the field.

After the slow start, Northwestern went on an 11-0 run, making Nebraska work for every shot and even coming up with some impressive blocks. On the other end, the Wildcats moved the ball really well to set up open looks. Northwestern also hit the offensive glass hard, which gave the team an opportunity to hit Nebraska with some quick second-chance points. Four different Wildcats scored during the run.

Despite that, it was still a slog offensively. It took a couple triples from Aaron Falzon and Scottie Lindsey to end the half to nudge Northwestern above 30 percent shooting from the field. The Wildcats’ defense was largely responsible for giving them a 30-25 edge at halftime, as the team held Nebraska to 4-of-21 shooting on two-pointers and blocked six shots. Northwestern also turned 14 offensive rebounds into 12 second-chance points, out-hustling the Cornhuskers to create more scoring opportunities.

The second half started in similar fashion to the first. The Wildcats just couldn’t get into their offensive sets, nor could they put the ball in the basket; Northwestern started the period 2-of-9 from the field. There was one possession where Ash didn’t initiate a play, so Collins had the team run it again, despite the fact that Nebraska knew what was coming. The play resulted in a forced postup hook for Dererk Pardon, which he couldn’t get to fall. There was over a six-minute stretch where Northwestern went without a field goal.

Nebraska capitalized. The Cornhuskers went on a 6-0 run after the under-12 media timeout to take a 41-36 lead, attacking the Wildcats in the paint, where they had 26 points in the second half. Defensively, Nebraska shut off the paint, blocking 14 shots and holding Northwestern to just 7-of-23 shooting on layups. A thunderous dunk from Isaac Copeland put the Cornhuskers up 10 with less than six minutes to play.

Northwestern couldn’t make a comeback, shooting just 7-of-26 from the field in the second half. Pardon, Lindsey and Vic Law, the three best players on the floor for the Wildcats, combined to shoot 12-of43 for the game. That’s nowhere near good enough to win. Northwestern needs McIntosh back soon. Meanwhile, the dream of an NCAA Tournament berth is looking extremely far-fetched.

The Wildcats hit the road to play Penn State (11-5, 1-2) at Bryce Jordan Center on Friday.