The Wildcats program has grown to the point where they can compete with just about any team even on a bad night. Through 20 minutes against Maryland, that certainly seemed true as Maryland was unable to take advantage of its size, as Maryland saw the game slow to a grinding pace and as Maryland struggled to protect the ball, committing 11 first-half turnovers.
Northwestern though is still young enough with this roster that such inconsistent play on offense cannot last while NU stays in the game. The Terrapins, certainly the best team the Cats had seen to this point, figured things out in the second half and blew the doors open.
Maryland shot better than 60 percent in the second half, committed only two second-half turnovers (13 for the game) and picked apart an inexperienced Northwestern defense. The Wildcats went man and Alex Len got the ball in the post or picked the ball off the basket for an extra possession. If the Wildcats went to the 1-3-1 zone, the Terrapins were patient moving the ball around the perimeter, finding shooters in the corner for open 3-pointers.
Northwestern was unable to get its offense moving. The backdoor cuts that worked well to keep NU competitive in the first half were shut off as Maryland adjusted to the offense’s timing and made NU really have to grind to get good shots. And when the Cats did, 3-pointers would not fall or Len or the Terrapins’ other post players were there to challenge shots at the rim.
The two-point deficit at the half was transformed fairly quickly into a 20-point deficit in the second half as Bill Carmody and Northwestern were left without any answers to solve this suddenly hot Maryland team. The Terrapins did their part for the ACC (while they still could) in defeating the Wildcats 77-57 at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Tuesday.
Northwestern’s defense might be a problem all of its own that will get broken down unendingly before the next game, but tonight the offense did not quite carry its weight. Ostensibly, the Wildcats are still an offensive team.
But NU shot just 34.0 percent from the floor in this game and hit only 6 of the team’s 25 3-point attempts. Many of these shots were either open or came off flare screens. They were good looks, but just did not go in. Sometimes shots do not fall.
In the first half, Northwestern was able to make up for this by taking advantage of Maryland’s turnovers and working through the offense. The trouble offensively came for the Wildcats when they took shots too quickly or got bogged down going up against the Terrapins’ size.
It got even worse because Northwestern was unable to gain any traction on the glass. The Terrapins outrebounded the Wildcats 42-15, taking advantage of all those missed shots and grabbing 10 offensive rebounds of their own. Particularly in the second half, Len was able to get to the offensive glass, grabbing six offensive rebounds, and setting up others. Maryland’s ability to get second chance opportunities seemed to deflate Northwestern especially since NU had one opportunity on the other end with no rebounding force or ability to contest.
Alex Olah may one day get there, but the freshman looked completely outmatched by Alex Len, a likely lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Len scored 13 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the game, but his effect clearly went beyond the stats.
The Wildcats just could not go much of anywhere to get offense to match Maryland in the second half. Drew Crawford shot only 4 for 14 from the floor in scoring 10 points. Reggie Hearn had a solid game in scoring 19 points and Dave Sobolewski had 14 points on 3-for-6 shooting (posting a 73.5 percent true shooting percentage thanks to hitting six of his eight free throws and a 66.7 percent effective field goal percentage thanks to his 2-for-3 shooting performance from beyond the arc).
Jared Swopshire was a necessary player for the offensive glass, but never got into a rhythm after foul trouble took him virtually out of the first half.
In all likelihood, this is not the offensive performance we will see out of Northwestern on most nights. This is just not a team that struggles to execute this much and fails to hit on makeable 3-pointers at the rate NU was in this game. And likely too, the Wildcats will not see a center prospect of Len’s quality again this season.
This was a game that the team can hopefully use to grow. Alex Olah now knows where he needs to go. The Wildcats now know the level they have to execute at to win these kind of games. And defensively, they know they MUST rebound to have a chance. Particularly on nights when they struggle like this.
Maryland is quite clearly a pretty good team. The question now becomes whether games like this one and the Illinois State game are who this team is or just a blip in the development of this relatively young roster.