Northwestern’s offense has been bipolar this season, sometimes looking like an offense that can compete with the rest of Big Ten while also occasionally looking like a team that momentarily forgot how to pass and shoot.
Following a disappointing loss in Fort Myers against Pitt, headlined by their abysmal 36.5% shooting from the field, the ‘Cats (4-3) bounced back in a big way against a struggling Eagles team (4-5) in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Northwestern put up a season-high 82 points, thanks to an extremely efficient shooting night in addition to superb ball movement. The ‘Cats shot 32-55 from the floor on the whole, going 9-20 from beyond the arc and dishing out a season-high 18 assists along the way. NU maintained a double-digit lead the entire second-half despite BC’s late surge, a good news for a team that has often showed inexperience under pressure this season and last.
“Offensively, it was a combined effort,” head coach Chris Collins told the assembles media postgame in Newton, Massachusetts. “Miller [Kopp] was huge in the first half, and then obviously Buie, his ability to make plays when things were broken down, he got into the paint, made shots, made floaters.”
Kopp indeed opened up the offense for the ‘Cats, making a pair of threes to begin the game and scoring 13 in the opening frame. With five out of his six field goals being assisted, Kopp credited his teammates postgame on successfully moving the ball.
“I just got open shots, we did a good job of sharing the ball,” said the sophomore forward after the game.
Boo Buie followed his season-high 16-point night against Pitt with another personal record-breaker, pouring in 20 points on 8-9 shooting. It was especially impressive when the true freshman, who hit a variety of shots all game long, converted a tough layup to stop a 7-2 Eagles run in the final minutes.
“He’s super aggressive. When he gets into the paint and puts the pressure on defense, that opens up the floor,” Kopp said when asked about Buie’s play.
On a night when Pat Spencer struggled to make shots, it was reassuring to see a bench player step up and take over the starter’s score-first role.
“Pat struggled a little bit tonight. That’s what happens during the course of the year,” said Collins. “For a guy like Boo to be able to come in and give us great minutes and carry the load on that end was huge.”
Aside from Kopp and Buie, Anthony Gaines went a perfect 4-4 from the field while the freshman center Ryan Young scored 12 on 6-7 shooting. It was on the defensive end, however, where each player truly shined.
Boston College struggled to find an offensive rhythm as their top scorers, Derryck Thornton and Nik Popovic, were largely kept in check by Gaines and Young, respectively. The Eagles shot a whopping 27 threes but converted them at a rate of just 29.6%, nowhere close enough to NU’s 45% mark from beyond the arc.
“Our defense excels in the open floor,” Collins said. “[Young] did a really good job on the big kid Popovic, and I thought, quietly, Anthony Gaines’ defense against Thornton...was a huge key.”
With last night being the first true road win for this young and inexperienced Wildcats team, it served as a confidence builder heading into West Lafayette, where they will begin Big Ten play and mark their third straight matchup against a high major opponent Sunday against Purdue.
“When you’ve done it, it gives you the belief that you can do it again,” Collins said.
It’s been difficult for fans to ever know what kind of offense we are getting with this Northwestern team on a nightly basis, but Tuesday’s performance showed how impressive the group can look.
If they can continue this level of ball movement and shooting, even without any measure of game-to-game consistency, we may see some impressive (and fun!) upsets from this young squad.