EVANSTON, Ill. - Well, it’s not quite time to give up on this Northwestern men’s basketball team just yet.
After an embarrassing season-opening loss to Merrimack last Friday, the Wildcats (1-1) used a phenomenal first 25 minutes to fend off Providence (2-1), a team that many think of as a likely NCAA Tournament participant.
The field goal percentages told the tale in Evanston, with NU shooting the lights out in the first half and the Friars struggling to find the bottom of the basket. Providence shot just over 30 percent from the floor, shooting a poor 8-of-35 from three, and missing seven free throws.
On the other hand, NU shot 7-16 from behind the arc, helping them control much of the game.
With that said, things still ended up closer than the Wildcats would’ve liked. They allowed 20 offensive rebounds and turned it over 20 times, two shocking statistics that helped the Friars hang around.
Northwestern was led by Ryan Young on offense, who added 16 points and seven rebounds. Anthony Gaines finished second in scoring with 14 of his own.
Northwestern came out of the gates strong, starting the game on a 6-0 run. Providence then responded with an 8-0 run of it own, pulling ahead 10-8 by exploiting Northwestern’s strange hybrid 2-3 zone.
The Wildcats’ struggle on defense continued, but were relatively masked by Providence’s inability to make open shots. The Friars shot 28.6 percent in the first half, only hitting 4-of-17 threes (many of which were wide open.) The ‘Cats did everything in the power not to run away with the game, committing 10 turnovers in the first half, and shooting a poor 11-15 from the free throw line (two of which misses were on front half of one and ones.)
Although the Friar’s shooting certainly did not improve, NU’s defense did seem to stiffen, as the team, in a beautiful homage to Bill Carmody, found success in a 1-3-1 zone. Riding their improved defense. The Friars kept it close through their poor shooting until Northwestern went on a 23-12 run, much of which can be attributed to the play of true freshman Robbie Beran off of the bench. Beran added five points to NU’s run, including a deep three and an explosive block:
Other notable performances for the Cats in the first half included Miller Kopp pouring in 10 points on 3-5 shooting and hitting two of his three three point attempts, Pete Nance with seven points and solid defense, and Anthony Gaines providing nine points in 18 minutes.
The Friars played an ugly first half, somehow only scoring 29 points despite gathering 12 offensive rebounds. Sophomore David Duke lead the Friars with seven points in 16 minutes. Alpha Diallo, brother of OKC Thunder guard and 2019 Slam Dunk Contest winner Hamidou Diallo, had just five points on 2 for 11 shooting.
NU came out strong in the second half as well, with Pat Spencer hitting an extremely long three as the shot clock expired and Gaines adding a triple of his own. NU went on a 10-2 run in the first two and a half minutes of the half, capitalized by a Pat Spencer steal that lead to an easy layup, causing Providence head coach Ed Cooley to take a timeout to stem the bleeding with the Cats up 50-31.
Defensive rebounding continued to hurt Northwestern, as the Friars collected four offensive boards in the first four and a half minutes of the second half(three of which also resulted in Wildcat fouls.) Fouls continued to be an issue as well, with NU committing six fouls in just four minutes. They even lost the ball five times in the first seven minutes of the half, though, luckily, the Friars only converted these five extra possessions into four points.
Northwestern, through its sloppy play, found itself up 55-35 with twelve and a half minutes left. But then the Friars finally started hitting shots. In conjunction with a series of 3 consecutive NU turnovers, Ed Cooley’s squad went on an 14-0 in a matter of three minutes to bridge the gap to 55-46.
The Wildcats struggled to get their offense going, a large portion of which can likely be attributed to a great Providence press and Pat Spencer being stuck on the bench with 4 fouls. NU had problems against the 2-3 zone against Merrimack, and continued to struggle against it tonight.
After Northwestern finally seemed to find some momentum, Ryan Young missed a put-back layup and mismanaged the ensuing offensive rebound in a play that ended in Northwestern picking up its eighth foul of the frame with seven and a half minutes to go. Both teams continued to struggle, but it was turnovers from the ‘Cats that continued to keep the door open.
Coming out of the under-four, each team nabbed a quick bucket. After allowing an easy score off of yet another offensive rebound, Spencer penetrated to find Young for a crucial basket to re-up the lead to five. Providence missed yet another layup, and Anthony Gaines all but sealed things with two clutch free throws.
AJ Turner put on the finishing touches with a rim-rocking breakaway dunk, and the Wildcats were celebrating a crucial win.
NU had a poor second half, but had players step up when they needed them. Young had 12 points on 5-7 shooting in the frame. At the same time, Kopp struggled, only scoring two points in 12 minutes. Notably, Robbie Beran, who provided a huge spark for the Cats in the first half, only played five minutes in the second half.
Alpha Diallo had 10 points on 4-10 shooting, leading the Friars in the second half. He and Luwane Pipkins both played all 20 minutes, but ultimately weren’t enough to overcome NU.
Northwestern needed a win, and they needed it badly. Against a Providence team that is likely to make the tournament this year, the Cats showed up, and showed the country that they might just have some fight in them after all.