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Men’s basketball: Four takeaways from NU’s close loss to Indiana

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Chris Collins praised his team’s effort after the Wildcats dropped their first conference game.

Courtesy of @NUMensBball on Twitter

Northwestern (6-2, 0-1 B1G) dropped its conference opener to Indiana (6-2, 1-0) on a last-minute Romeo Langford floater. Here are four takeaways from Saturday’s game.

Langford’s game-winner, and late-game execution

A Justin Smith free throw tied the game with 2:06 left, preceding three possessions of scoreless basketball. After a missed Ryan Taylor three with 1:08 to go, Langford got a step on Vic Law and converted a floater over Dererk Pardon to give IU the lead with 39 seconds left.

“He’s a terrific scorer, a terrific player,” Chris Collins said after the game. “He made a leaning 14-foot shot under pressure. That’s what really good players do.”

Shaded by Law and Anthony Gaines for the majority of the game, Indiana’s stud freshman scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, none bigger than the two that gave the Hoosiers their final lead.

Following Langford’s bucket, the Wildcats turned the ball over on an errant pass. On the ensuing inbounds, NU tried to trap Hoosier point guard Rob Phinisee in the backcourt, but the freshman slipped through and found Justin Smith under the basket for an easy lay-in, giving IU a four-point lead.

“We were trying to get one trap and then foul,” Collins explained. “It was Phinisee or Green or one of those guys, I thought did a good job eluding. We got a great trap, I thought we had him hurried a bit and then he kinda scatted out of it.”

Vic Law, who finished with 16 points, banked in a deep three-pointer to bring NU within one, but Ryan Taylor’s half-court heave bounced harmlessly off the backboard as the buzzer sounded.

Despite the loss, Collins was pleased with his team’s effort.

“I feel badly for my guys, because I thought our effort was worthy of winning today,” he said. “I thought we did everything we could do to put ourselves in a position to win and we just didn’t finish the deal.”

Dererk Pardon is the truth

The Wildcat center was already having a wildly efficient season, even with an increased usage rate, but Saturday’s effort was the Cleveland native’s pièce de résistance. In 39 minutes, the senior, who Collins called the team’s “anchor”, finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds on 11-of-15 shooting, including several huge buckets late in the second half when the Wildcats were struggling to score.

Collins said the Wildcats hoped to use Pardon to attack Indiana big man Juwan Morgan, a Second Team All-Big Ten performer last year.

“I knew that they wanted Juwan to go at me so I knew my only way to counter that was to go at him,” Pardon added after the game.

Pardon was 5-of-5 for 12 points in the first half, including two and-1 baskets.

He also had a fine assist to AJ Turner for a dunk, and he pinned Romeo Langford’s shot off the backboard, which had to feel good.

All good things must come to an end, though, and Pardon finally missed on his eighth shot attempt of the night, but that didn’t stop the big man from keeping NU in the game when its offense stagnated. The center had Northwestern’s only made field goals from the 14:03 mark in the second half until seven minutes later, when Vic Law made a contested jumper.

As the game got into crunch time, Pardon’s two buckets sandwiched a Juwan Morgan and-1 that could have given IU the momentum.

The first-half offense looked excellent (for the most part)

When the Wildcats came to Bloomington last season, they managed only 46 points on 26.8 percent shooting. NU scored 33 in the first half on Saturday, converting on 13 of their first 19 shots and 3-of-7 three-pointers. The Wildcats got some of the easiest looks they’ve had all season off of backdoor cuts and pick-and-roll action, and hot shooting from Pardon, Vic Law, and AJ Turner helped NU keep pace with Indiana.

As Zach Harris noted on Thursday, the NU offense is at its best when the team moves the ball around and doesn’t stand still for too long. That’s what we saw from the Wildcats for much of the first half, but the team got a little more stagnant late in the half, when NU didn’t convert a field goal for the final 4:31.

“We’re not really a break-you-down, one-on-one type of team,” Collins said. “We’re a type of team that has to rely on movement, and cutting, and playing through the post.”

Turnovers hurt the Wildcats as well. Turner got his pocket picked by Rob Phinisee while dribbling in isolation, one of nine first-half turnovers, that led to 12 Hoosier points and woke up a Saturday afternoon Assembly Hall crowd. The Wildcats were down four at the half despite Pardon and Law combining to score 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

Heavy minutes for the veterans

Dererk Pardon logged 39 minutes. AJ Turner was on the court for 37 minutes. Vic Law played 34 minutes, Ryan Taylor played 33, and Anthony Gaines played 26. That was the lineup Collins went with down the stretch, to counter a smaller IU lineup with only one true big-man on the floor.

“I just thought that group was playing well for us,” Collins said. “You know, you’re on the road, so for Pete Nance, Miller Kopp, they’re feeling this thing out. And I thought they did a good job. But you get in the meat of a game, and you go with your veteran guys.”

First-year Miller Kopp earned his eighth start, but struggled in the first half, missing his first four shots and looking lost on defense. Kopp finished with six points on 2-of-8 shooting in 15 minutes. Pete Nance was 0-of-3 in 11 minutes of court time.

With a visit from Michigan looming on Tuesday, the Wildcats could lean heavily on their veterans again.