Scoring difficulties that were at their worst in the first half and continued throughout the lowest-scoring basketball game that Northwestern has participated in this season ended up being the death knell Sunday afternoon, as the Wildcats (4-4, 0-1 Big Ten) fell 58-44 to Purdue (6-3, 1-0) at Mackey Arena in their first conference game of 2019.
Behind 14 points and six rebounds from Pete Nance, who led all scorers along with Sasha Stefanovic, NU hung around for a long time, but eventually the Boilermakers found the shooting they needed to put the ‘Cats away.
The ‘Cats found themselves trailing the Boilermakers 13-9 after the first 11 minutes of play, with scoring sparse amidst an all-around ugly display of basketball.
Nance kept Northwestern afloat early. The talented sophomore scored eight of the team’s first nine points and was the only one who truly seemed to be able to keep the offense on schedule, avoiding the commission of even a single turnover for the game’s duration.
Unfortunately, while he was lighting it up in the early going, his teammates shot a combined 3-of-17 from the field in the first half, and added eight turnovers to boot.
The narrative of the first half was similar to a Northwestern football game on the first weekend without one: the offense was poor in almost every area, but a stellar performance by the defense kept the ‘Cats in it.
Collins often sent double-teams at Purdue players posting up or in the short corners, which worked quite well, with NU defenders flying all over the court to make proper rotations with regularity. The Boilermakers were forced to take a myriad of garbage threes late in the shot clock that consistently clanked off the rim, finishing 1-of-14 in the first half from deep,and 10-of-32 from the field overall.
However, despite their own putrid shooting performance, Purdue held a 22-16 lead over Northwestern at the half.
Relative to the first half of play, the second was an offensive explosion, as the Boilermakers finally began to hit their open threes, and Nance continued to do all that he could, attacking off the dribble to score and put pressure on the defense.
While the Northwestern offense was largely a one-man show, Purdue countered with a balanced scoring attack that proved to be much more effective, as all five of their starters finished with eight or more points on the game.
Miller Kopp, Ryan Young and Pat Spencer all were averaging double-digit scoring numbers coming into this game, only to be held to nine, three and zero points respectively.
Kopp struggled to get open looks due to the speed of the Purdue defenders, and often looked tentative. Young made smart plays and amassed seven rebounds and three assists while playing solid defense, but was clearly bothered by the height of 7’3” Matt Haarms, finishing a woeful 1-7 from the field. Spencer was completely taken out of the game and lacked his usual aggression.
It was looking like the game might get out of hand, as NU trailed 45-32 with seven minutes left in the game, only for a physical drive from Nance and a pick-and-pop three from Robbie Beran to cut the lead to single digits and give the ‘Cats life.
One of the bright spots in this game was the late-game performance of Beran along with fellow freshman Boo Buie. The two combined for 13 points and were put on the court in place of seniors Spencer and Anthony Gaines during crunch time.
Alas, any slim chance Northwestern had at winning quickly died in the last four minutes of the contest, as Purdue closed on a 9-2 run (with the help of a few questionable calls) in order to win comfortably in the final minutes.
The ‘Cats are now 4-4 on the season and have a week to fix their offense before they take on SIU-Edwardsville next Sunday in Welsh-Ryan arena. They will continue Big Ten play with Michigan State, also at home, the following Tuesday.