At least Norfolk State won’t be listed beside the likes of Merrimack and Radford for the rest of the season.
A rocky offensive start certainly didn’t help ease any concerns surrounding the state of the program, but Northwestern (2-2) fought its way back to .500 with a 70-59 win over the Spartans (3-3) Friday night. Stingy defense and frequent conversions at the free throw line helped the Wildcats avoid yet another embarrassing early season loss.
Ryan Young continued the promising start to his redshirt freshman season, scoring 19 points and collecting 12 rebounds (seven coming on the offensive glass). He shot an impressive 11-of-12 from the free throw line and had a solid defensive performance, only fouling twice.
Pete Nance also put together a complete offensive performance for Northwestern. The sophomore scored 17 points and was +14 during his 32 minutes on the court. He led the team with three deep balls as well.
Picking apart Northwestern’s zone defense early, Norfolk State jumped out to an 18-8 lead in the first seven minutes of the game, starting off 7-of-9 from the field and sinking all four of its three-point attempts.
Meanwhile, the Cats simply could not find the bottom of the net for much of the first half. Ten minutes in, NU saw just 21.4 percent of its overall shots and just one of its seven attempts from beyond the arc go in. The team looked lost offensively and only managed to keep the Spartans lead within reach by getting to the free throw line early and often.
With yet another “upset” looking all too likely, Northwestern clamped down on defense. Switching to man-to-man after its porous start, NU held Norfolk State without a point for over seven minutes. During that period, the Spartans went 0-of-8 from the field and turned the ball over numerous times.
The stingy defensive effort and Norfolk State’s penchant for fouling — the Spartans put the Cats in the double bonus with 5:56 remaining in the first half — allowed NU to go on a 9-0 run even while missing nine consecutive field goals itself.
Despite shooting 32 percent from the field in the period, Northwestern pulled away, ending the first half with a 37-25 lead. Pete Nance and Ryan Young led the charge with 13 and nine points respectively, and the Wildcats 16-for-18 effort from the line did a good deal to make up for the team’s offensive woes.
Northwestern looked much better on offense to start the second half, shooting an efficient 50 percent from the field to extend the lead to 19 points with 10 minutes left to go in the game.
Young continued to both get to the line and convert, while also continuing to dominate the glass on both sides of the court. Young finished with a double-double in the second half alone and looked to be the best player on the court throughout the night.
The Cats continued their sound defensive performance as well, forcing six misses on the Spartans’ first nine attempts of the second half. However, they did begin to send Norfolk State to the line frequently after allowing just four free throw attempts in the first half. NU committed a sloppy 11 fouls in the second half, but the Spartans weren’t able to take advantage as they converted on just 50 percent of their second half free throws.
Northwestern’s hot second half start cooled off a little, as the team missed seven consecutive field goals at one point. Still, the ‘Cats kept the Spartans at a steady distance throughout the final period, never seeing its lead drop below 11.
NU ended up shooting an unimpressive 33.9 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from three, but its 27-of-30 effort from the free throw line and suffocating defense were more than enough to get the job done. Norfolk State finished the game with an equally dismal shooting percentage, making just 21 of 51 field goals and 10 of 20 free throws.
The Wildcats take on Bradley next as part of the 2019 Fort Myers Tip-Off in Florida. The Braves are coming off a 70-61 victory over Radford.