If you thought last week’s 43-42 battle would be any indication of the Wildcats’ defensive dominance this season, you were utterly bewildered by Monday night’s performance.
After a disappointing one-point loss to No. 15 Auburn in Cancún, Northwestern (5-2, 0-0 B1G) looked to get back on track against Pittsburgh (5-3, 0-0 ACC), but was humiliated instead, as the ‘Cats fell to the Panthers 87-58 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
It was an all-around offensive effort for Pittsburgh, who finished with five scorers in double-digits. Leading the way was Blake Hinson, who posted a dominant 22-point, eight-rebound and five-assist game. On the other hand, the Wildcats were only able to get two scorers in double digits, with Chase Audige scoring 14 on 5-of-13 shooting (while fouling out with six minutes remaining) and Boo Buie adding 10 on 4-of-10 shooting with five assists.
In the opening minutes, Audige took each of the ‘Cats’ first four shots, yet made only one of the attempts from deep. The teams traded unsuccessful possessions early on as Northwestern got into foul trouble early with two offensive fouls that handed the ball back to Pitt.
After a three-minute scoreless run for both sides, Nike Sibande drained a three-pointer for the Panthers to tie the game at seven. Halfway through the first half, the teams broke out of the early scoring struggles and traded impressive makes, including consecutive threes from Robbie Beran and Ty Berry.
The game was back-and-forth for a majority of the first half as neither team was able to steal the momentum. The score was always one-possession game until two Hinson free throws propelled Pitt to a five-point lead with just over six minutes remaining.
Finally capturing the momentum, Pitt kept the foot on the pedal, surging to an 11-0 run as Northwestern went cold. Hinson and Nelly Cummings made contested shots and captured a 27-16 lead.
In the waning minutes of the first half, the Wildcats made a small dent in the deficit, as Audige converted a buzzer-beating three-pointer to make the score 37-28 at the break.
Northwestern shot only 31% from the field in the first period of play. In comparison, Pitt shot 44%, and was especially lethal from downtown, splashing six of ten threes.
Just like in the first half, the ‘Cats quickly got into foul trouble, sending the Panthers to the line early and often. Pittsburgh’s hot streak from beyond the arc also continued into the second half, as a Greg Elliott three punctuated a 7-0 Panther run that put Northwestern in a 17-point hole.
The bleeding didn’t end there as the Pitt lead ballooned to as many as 32. For the next fifteen minutes of game time, Pitt put on a clinic from deep to flatten Northwestern on its home court. This one was out of hand with plenty of time remaining.
Seven games into the season, Pitt had yet to enjoy a game where they shot 40% from deep. Yet, against Northwestern, threes were raining down and it felt like the offense was getting any look they desired. The Panthers finished the night shooting a ludicrous 64% from beyond the arc on 14-of-22 shooting. The result is especially disappointing for a Northwestern defense that came into the game allowing the fewest points per game in the Big Ten. After a 5-0 start, the ‘Cats’ early season optimism has disappeared, and Chris Collins will be urgently searching for answers.
Now on a two-game losing streak, Northwestern will look to bounce back Sunday at 6 p.m. CT against No. 20 Michigan State in the first conference matchup of the season.