The ball sat on the rim tantalizing the faithful. It did not need to rotate, it just stopped. Sitting there in a frozen moment of time. A roll in and bedlam would ensure, the dream would continue. A roll out…
We know that feeling all too well.
And the pain this time seems extra painful.
Cobb’s floater hung tenuously on the front of the rim in regulation and fell no good, giving Minnesota the last chance in regulation. The Gophers missed that opportunity. But they would not miss the opportunity in overtime.
The clock may have finally struck midnight on Northwestern’s tournament dreams. And it was the evil Stepmother known as late-game execution and overtime that rang the bell, perhaps sending Northwestern down to its fourth straight NIT appearance. So close, yet so far.
The Wildcats went 1 for 5 on field goals in overtime and gave up 14 points to the Gophers. Northwestern had just one field goal in the final 4:46 of regulation. It was the typical wave of Northwestern. Great for moments. Horrible for others. Not good enough when it mattered most.
Minnesota advanced in the Big Ten Tournament with a 75-68 overtime win at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse on Thursday. A disappointing, but ultimately final way to end the quest for the NCAA Tournament (maybe… there IS still a chance, even if it is a delusional one).
The Wildcats tried to force the ball to John Shurna, but Minnesota draped him with physical defenders like Rodney Williams and the much bigger Elliot Eliason. Shurna found it tough to get free late in the game. And that brought on uncharacteristic turnovers. Dave Sobolewski had three, including one on an inbounds pass to JerShon Cobb that led to Andre Hollins’ game-tying lay up.
With Minnesota taking control in overtime, Northwestern still managed to turn the ball over and never grabbed its footing. The Wildcats had only eight turnovers, but each one seemed to hurt.
There just seemed too small a margin for error this time. Minnesota was playing with too much energy and too much pride from the beginning to lay down and allow Northwestern to get its chance to dance so easily.
The Gophers put on a 3-point shooting blitz early on. Andre Hollins had 16 of his 25 points in the first half and made five of his 10 3-point attempts. It also was clear Minnesota did not need Ralph Sampson III as freshman center Elliott Eliason got the opening call. He played with a ton of energy in grabbing six offensive rebounds and getting the opening call on John Shurna.
Yes, the Wildcats looked a bit tight early on. But it was an over-reliance on 3-point shooting that may have done Northwestern in when the offense went stagnant.
Northwestern was 11 for 26 from beyond the arc for the entire game. A lot of those makes and attempts came in the first half. It was something of a sign that the offense was stalling though as many were bailout shots from John Shurna (21 points, 5 for 8 from beyond the arc). There were moments of great offense, but most of it was physical defense from Minnesota bumping cutters and preventing much penetration into the paint.
The Wildcats opened the second half trying to get to the basket and struggled to do so. Eliason had a block early on. And Minnesota was very stout in the paint. There were multiple layup attempts blocked away or altered with the threat of a block.
That early stage set the tone for a slugfest of a second half. While Northwestern was able to get into the penalty early, the 3-pointers were not falling and the offense was not flowing.
The Wildcats gave up 13 offensive rebounds and 46.8 percent shooting. The made 17 of 21 free throws, but shot just 35.1 percent from the floor. NU needed all 11 3-pointers just to stay in the game in the first half.
They also needed the career effort from JerShon Cobb, who scored 24 points on 8-for-12 shooting, to stay in this one. Cobb looked exactly like the kind of player we envisioned him at the beginning of the season. He was a pest defensively at the top of the 1-3-1 when Northwestern made its initial comeback.
But you had to ask where was Drew Crawford? Crawford struggled with just eight points on 2-for-11 shooting.
The defense was also very inconsistent. The 1-3-1 was effective in the first half but gave up shots in the second half. Man was ineffective early and then ineffective late. Everything was inconsistent.
Northwestern just could not make the plays it needed on either end of the floor to pull away or keep the game within striking distance. At the end, you had no idea if or when Northwestern was going to score. And that is a problem.
And that is why Northwestern will not be going to the NCAA Tournament it appears. That is why they will be heading on a bus home to Evanston much earlier than they should.