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Three takeaways from Northwestern’s 64-50 loss to Rutgers

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NU held the Scarlet Knights scoreless for eight minutes in the second half and still lost.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Rutgers Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern (6-12, 3-11 B1G) dropped its 11th straight game on Saturday, falling 64-50 to Rutgers. The Wildcats started strong and got out to a 14-4 advantage in the first half but struggled to produce offensively as the Scarlet Knights wore them down. NU shot just 33% as a team. It has bit hit emotionally in the past week with the death of the father of first-year guard Ty Berry and a heartbreaking double-overtime defeat to Indiana on Wednesday. Here are three takeaways from the loss in Piscataway.

The Wildcats once again didn’t play smart

NU head coach Chris Collins lamented his team’s inability to take advantage of opportunities postgame. Down by 10 with just over four minutes left, Boo Buie missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Rutgers made a heads-up play to find Jacob Young, who had snuck behind the NU defenders to get an easy layup. Young torched the ‘Cats not long after when he intercepted an Audige pass and went the length of the floor for a dunk to put Rutgers up nine when NU could’ve cut it to a five or four-point deficit.

“Those were two of their seven baskets in 20 minutes,” said Collins. “So that’s what I mean, those two plays kind of in particular were just to me mental lapses that we got to get better at.”

As we’ve written about before, NU can’t afford to mess up the little things. Playing good situational basketball is how it can make up for deficiencies versus tougher opponents. But NU missed the front end of four one-and-one opportunities in the second half, and Collins said a missed layup left 10 points on the court.

“This group has shown they can do it, and so we got to bank on the fact we’ve beaten some really good teams, we’ve beaten teams in this league, we believe we’re a good team, we’re just coming up a little short,” said Collins. “You got to play with that little bit of sense of anger, confidence when that time comes.”

NU’s offense has dried up

Remember when the ‘Cats gave up 80+ points six times in seven games? The defense is no longer the primary culprit for the losing streak. Over the past four games, NU has scored an average of 57.5 points in regulation. That’s not going to win many games. Anthony Gaines — yes, Anthony Gaines — tied for the team-high in scoring at Rutgers with 11 points, with all of his production coming in the first half. He attempted just one shot after halftime.

Rutgers went scoreless for over EIGHT MINUTES in the second half and still won comfortably despite scoring just 64 points. Chase Audige also had 11 and provided late buckets to keep NU in it, but the offense looked putrid otherwise. Robbie Beran continues to be a non-factor, hitting his only attempt and playing just 18 minutes. Miller Kopp, Pete Nance and Boo Buie combined to shoot just 6-of-25 for 18 points.

“When when you’re struggling to score, the old adage is try to get a layup or try to get yourself to the free throw line,” Collins said.

That’s true, and as much as Collins wants to talk about the four one-and-ones NU missed, his team still attempted just 12 total free throws and scored 22 points in the paint. This team is now very much beginning to resemble last year’s squad.

Audige continues to impress

Even in the loss, Chase Audige is showing his motor and improvement. When NU was down 41-27 early in the second half and Rutgers threatened to bury them, Audige made a huge track down block on what looked like a sure layup by Geo Baker. NU then put together an 11-0 run to claw within three and put themselves in position to hang around.

The sophomore transfer certainly hasn’t been perfect and his desire to make plays can drive fans crazy, but on a team that can look soul-less and uninspired, Audige stands out. He has begun to figure out life in the Big Ten and is shooting a serviceable 40% from the field and 32% from three.

Collins said early in the season he was so eager to be playing for the first time in a year that he got in trouble with forcing some bad shots early in the shot clock. Now they’re putting the ball in his hands more as he attempts to develop into a true combo guard.

“He wants to be a key guy,” said Collins. “He wants to be a leader. He a winning guy. He’s a competitor. And he takes the losses really hard. I’m really pleased with his development, and you got to love his energy. The kid plays really hard every second he’s on the floor.”