The Northwestern Wildcats went out on the road once again and scored another big, if imperfect victory, defeating Rutgers 69-60.
Northwestern was struggling heading toward halftime of its game against Rutgers on Thursday night. The Wildcats shot 26.5 percent in the first half and were trailing the entire way, struggling to get rebounds and find any momentum.
Bryant McIntosh struggled to get shots and get others involved. The shots were not falling. Freshman Isaiah Brown was leading the team in scoring as the only one able to generate some offense.
This was the famous letdown game for Northwestern. The inexcusable blemish that would sully their NCAA Tournament resume. This felt like that inevitable game for this constantly cursed program.
Northwestern gathered itself again and dominated the second half. The Wildcats shot 51.7 percent from the floor. Their stars picked up their slack as Scottie Lindsey and Victor Law made their shots and got the offense moving.
The movement and flow returned and the Wildcats raced ahead of the Knights. Dererk Pardon continued to help Northwestern hold down the fort as Rutgers struggled to finish on the interior. If this were a better team, Northwestern might have been in bigger trouble with that start.
The Wildcats did what Tournament teams have to do. They took care of business. That matters for something, right?
Northwestern took control and took the tempo of the game. The team found its identity and did not let the momentum of a road game take anything away from them.
The Wildcats played some strong defense and eventually pulled away for the victory. This was a gut-check, should-win game the Wildcats avsolutely needed.
They passed that test with relative ease. Or at least ease enough.
Pardon the inside
Dererk Pardon made his presence known throughout the game and anchored the inside, dominating the Rutgers interior and keeping Rutgers from getting easy baskets.
Pardon blocked a career-high eight shots, the second most blocks in a single game in Northwestern history. Pardon eight points and 11 rebounds. He was legitimately on triple double watch for much of the evening.
His presence was a big part of Northwestern’s defensive mastery inside. Rutgers shot 31.9 percent including 1 for 12 from beyond the arc. And that was a late 3-pointer at that. Rutgers consistently struggled to make shots around the basket with Pardon helping change shots.
Northwestern struggled for much of the first half with offensive rebounds and winning 50/50 balls. The Wildcats helped lock down the offensive glass and hold the Knights to one shot through much of the second half. It helped Northwestern easily pull away.
Pardon has made a big difference for Northwestern since returning from injury. His inside presence has had some marginal effects defensively and on the glass. But it has had an overall positive effect. It has made Northwestern’s defense a lot stronger.
Bryant McIntosh’s struggles this season are becoming well documented. And it is a continuing storyline.
McIntosh is still one of Northwestern’s best players. When he is attacking and creating for others, Northwestern is at its best. The team becomes extremely difficult to stop.
The Wildcats need McIntosh to win games.
That was born out again in Thursday’s game. McIntosh struggled once again in the first half and the offense stagnated and suffered. He focused too much on his own shot and the Wildcats could not get their team moving.
McIntosh finished with six points and four assists on 2-for-10 shooting. McIntosh got better in the second half, but was virtually a non-factor throughout the game. Brown, McIntosh’ backup, kept Northwestern in the game throughout the first half.
McIntosh is still vitally important to Northwestern. The Wildcats, though, got a lift from other players. And on a bad day they still were able to lift their teammate up and get the win.
Live and die on the 3
Northwestern is a 3-point shooting. That is who this team is.
The missed shots in the first half were a big reason for Northwestern’s overall offensive struggled. The team uses the shot to loosen things up on the interior. When the team is not making shots, it beocmes more difficult for the team to spread the floor.
It was telling Northwestern still won despite making just 3 of 20 3-point attempts. Victor Law missed all four of his attempts. Scottie Lindsey was just 1 of 7 from beyond the arc.
The Wildcats did attack though. They got to the line for 20 free throw attempts, including nine from Law himself.
This was not an efficient day for the Wildcats. They struggled to make shots.
But Northwestern found the shots they needed in the end. They attacked in transition and they got into the interior. Like with Rutgers attacking the glass in the first half, Northwestern attacked hte offensive glass in the second half. Those second-chance opportunities helped keep Northwestern’s offense afloat.
And that was enough in the end.