After a string of conference losses, the Northwestern Wildcats got back on their feet on Friday. The ‘Cats used their five day break to regroup, and though it was ugly at times, they came away with a crucial 65-57 win in Piscataway.
Derek Pardon led the way with 17 points and seven rebounds, and Ryan Taylor pitched in 14 including two late threes. As Vic Law worked through struggles from the field in his first game back from injury, the bench picked up the slack, with Miller Kopp, Pete Nance, and Anthony Gaines combining for 24 points.
The biggest story heading into the game was the change in the starting lineup to counteract Rutgers’ front court and their inside presence. Berrett Benson was inserted into the starting lineup alongside Derek Pardon for the first time all year, joining typical starters A.J. Turner, Vic Law, and Ryan Taylor.
The lineup shift backfired almost immediately. The Scarlet Knights opened the game with seven unanswered points, forcing Collins to burn an early timeout. Things quickly turned around, but ultimately lineups with both Pardon and Benson were outscored 15-8 throughout the first period. Every other lineup combination for the Wildcats, however, outscored the Scarlet Knights 25-11.
It was an efficient first period for the ‘Cats as they started running their offense through Pardon in the low post. The senior center shot an efficient 6-7 from the field to go for 12 points along with 4 rebounds. He was the best player on the court for the majority of the period, being seemingly unguardable at times. An emphatic dunk through traffic off of a Law assist showed that, early on at least, it was his night.
Northwestern led 33-26 after 20 minutes. But Rutgers quickly climbed back into the contest, using a 9-0 run early in the second half to cut the deficit to one. Quickly though, Northwestern responded. A huge putback dunk from sophomore Anthony Gaines and a three-pointer from true freshman Miller Kopp shifted the momentum completely.
Anthony Gaines just being a good teammate. pic.twitter.com/EVk1AnDk46— Northwestern Basketball (@NUMensBball) January 19, 2019
Turnovers were the Wildcats’ kryptonite tonight, as Rutgers capitalized for 21 fast break points. Crucially, the Scarlet Knights knotted it up at 49 with four minutes left after another nice run as a pair of Northwestern turnovers led to easy layups on the other end.
Then, Northwestern’s veteran players took the game into their own hands as Vic Law responded with an important go-ahead layup on a strong take to the rim and Ryan Taylor hit a clutch corner three to push the lead to 4.
Taylor and Law followed up their clutch shots down the line with some key misses from beyond the arc. Law was bailed out on of those misses with a little over a minute left as his relenting presence on the boards got the refs whistle. The senior essentially iced the game from there, hitting both of his shots from the stripe.
A second half that included plenty of fouls culminated in a free throw fest, and Northwestern did enough to close it out easily despite a bad turnover from Taylor. The Wildcats made their last 8 free throws, while Rutgers left ten points on the board with a rough 15-25 showing at the line.
Vic Law showed a bit of rust coming out of the gates after missing Northwestern’s matchup with Michigan. Law missed badly on his first three and finished the game with 6 points on 2-10 shooting, going 0-5 from beyond the arc.
Meanwhile, Gaines, Nance, and Kopp picked up the slack. Northwestern’s ill-fated two big lineup closed the game as a -15 in about 17 minutes of action, but for one of the first times this year, the bench mob got it done.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Wildcats will take a win in whatever fashion they can muster at this critical point in the season. Northwestern follows up this game with against the 25th-ranked Indiana Hoosiers at Welsh-Ryan on Tuesday the 22nd.