EVANSTON, Illinois — The first 10 minutes of Sunday night’s loss to No. 21 Wisconsin were nothing short of splendid for Northwestern. Boo Buie got off to a hot start, Ty Berry hit a three of his own and the Wildcats’ defense looked sharp as they got out to an 18-15 lead with 9:53 to play in the first half.
Then the ‘Cats caught the turnover bug.
First, there was a bad pass. Then there was a lost ball. Then another bad pass. We saw a charge too. It wasn’t uncommon to watch a Northwestern possession and see it end in a turnover, as the ‘Cats had six in the final eight minutes of the first half.
That theme continued throughout the second half. By the end of the game, the Wildcats had handed the ball over to the Badgers on 14 separate occasions. Wisconsin proceeded to turn those 14 turnovers into 21 points, effectively turning the tide of the game. Meanwhile, Northwestern forced just eight turnovers, converting those into eight points.
“When you play these guys, you know it’s going to be a possession-by-possession game.” head coach Chris Collins said. “They manage tempo, they make you play deep into shot clocks, and that’s why when you get the ball, you have to play effective offense. I thought early in the game we did some good things, but I thought our decision-making overall tonight was not very good.”
It’s no secret that decision-making played a large role in determining the outcome of Sunday night. The Wildcats played sloppily while the Badgers played with polished grace. It wasn’t just the turnovers that overwhelmed Northwestern, it was their poor shot selection and shooting.
When you initially look at the shooting statistics, it doesn’t seem all too bad. The ‘Cats shot 40% from the field on the game while the Badgers shot just 41%. It isn’t until you look closely that you see that just one Wildcat — Buie — scored more than 10 points in the game. Robbie Beran was the only other Northwestern player to score above five. The game was slow, sure, but no other Northwestern player really shot the ball well or shot that much at all.
Take Chase Audige, for example. He finished the game with five points on 2-of-7 shooting with three turnovers. Miller Kopp, meanwhile, scored just four points on 1-of-3 shooting with three turnovers as well. Pete Nance had just one turnover but scored just three points on 1-of-4 shooting. Those are Northwestern’s top three scorers this year, and they combined for just 14 shot attempts. Sloppy play prevented the ‘Cats from getting the ball to their playmakers.
That’s where Buie came in. He was possibly the only bright spot in the loss to the Badgers, as he finished with 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting. He scored the most points out of any player on either team and added four assists to his name as well.
“I felt like in the Illinois game, he found some things, he was able to start attacking, he got into the paint, made plays,” Collins said on Buie. “I thought he carried that over. He’s practiced well. I felt like with this game, just to have another ball handler in there, another guy to create a shot for himself or others would help us to start.”
The latter is true. As previously mentioned, the ‘Cats did get out to a quick start, and it was mainly due to Buie, who scored nine of Northwestern’s first 12 points. When Buie was taken out and replaced by Berry, the momentum seemed to shift; the turnovers began to pile up, and pretty soon not even Buie was an exception to the sloppy play at points throughout the game.
“I think it’s just about guys being indecisive, not making decisions fast enough, including myself,” Buie said on the turnovers. “[It’s about] being more sharp and paying more attention to detail, more attention to detail meaning knowing the time in the game and where you’re at and what kind of transition look you have. I just think little things like that could really shore up some things.”
The Wildcats have three games left this season to end this losing streak, two against tournament contenders and one against the worst team in the conference. Then, they’ll head to the offseason to try to find out what exactly went wrong and how they can prevent it from happening again.