In one of the closest games Northwestern has played this season, a ten point lead late in the second half quickly deteriorated in true Wildcat fashion.
Northwestern (5-9, 0-4) silenced Assembly Hall for all but the last twelve minutes of game, when Indiana (12-3, 2-2) stormed back to capture the lead for good.
Strong performances from a returning AJ Turner, who sparked the ‘Cats with 12 points off the bench (the senior’s best output of the season), and Pat Spencer, who finished with a team high 15 points and five assists on 5-8 shooting, couldn’t save Chris Collins’ squad from yet another close loss, with NU falling to 1-12 in their last 13 games decided by ten points or fewer (h/t Ryan Lindley). Even Spencer’s mid-second half monster dunk didn’t provide the momentum the ‘Cats needed to hold the lead.
Both teams sprinted out of the gate. Miller Kopp ignited the offense with seven quick points, but Indiana established an early lead by pounding the paint with freshman phenom Trayce Jackson-Davis, who had a game-high 21.
Northwestern took the lead late in the first half with a combination of stifling defense and unforced turnovers by the Hoosiers. In the final 8:58 of the first half, Northwestern’s zone defense held Indiana to just one field goal and seven TOs.
The Wildcats extended their lead in the second half as Chris Collins’ offense started to click. Turner found an easy layup off of a backdoor cut and Ryan Young scored an open bucket off of a beautifully executed inbounds play. With 11:59 left in the second half, the Wildcats held a controlling 50-40 lead.
Then the shots stopped falling. After the Hoosiers forced a shot clock violation, the home crowd began to get loud and Indiana’s defense intensified. For the next six and a half minutes, Northwestern was held scoreless (their third drought of that length or longer this season), and Indiana quickly tied the game at 50.
Clutch jumpshots by Kopp and Turner helped the Wildcats regain the lead, but Jackson-Davis reasserted himself in the paint for the Hoosiers, capitalizing with a jam to give the Hoosiers the 63-59 lead with 59 seconds remaining. The ‘Cats weren’t able to close the four point gap, and the Hoosiers knocked down their free throws to close out the game.
Foul trouble plagued the Wildcats all day. Already working with just eight scholarship players thanks to Boo Buie’s continued absence, Pete Nance picked up two early fouls and remained limited throughout the game, while fellow forwards Kopp and Robbie Beran also fell into foul trouble. The latter player fouled out with 1:57 left in the contest after a largely impressive showing.
As a result, Indiana found themselves at the free throw line all evening. The Hoosiers came into the matchup leading the country in free throw attempts per game with 26.5, and they certainly continued the trend, going 23-30 from the charity stripe. Al Durham led the way with an impressive 11-12 performance, including the two that put the game out of reach.
The Wildcats will face Nebraska in Lincoln on Saturday as they continue to try to break through their ever-lengthening winless streak in conference play.