If there is one thing Northwestern has virtually always been able to do, even during the dark days under Bill Carmody, it was shoot the basketball. The Princeton offense created opportunities and drove defenses crazy with the constant movement. It kept the Wildcats in many games.
For the second straight game, with expectations continuing to bear down on the program and the pressure to perform way down the line in March in everyone’s minds, the offense struggled to deliver and keep up. It is one thing if that happens against a Maryland team with a lottery pick in 7-foot-2 center Alex Len. Josh Crittle is not on any NBA radars, at times he looked as effective as Len did Tuesday.
It was Crittle who collected an offensive rebound and score the go-ahead put back with 50 seconds. It was Crittle who challenged Reggie Hearn’s put back on the next possession, forcing NU to foul and send UIC to the line to ice the game. The Flames did that while the Wildcats were left floundering around on offense wondering what just happened.
The Wildcats lost their second consecutive home game in a shocking 50-44 loss to the Flames at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Saturday.
UIC played hard and without fear and earned the upset against Northwestern. Hats off to them.
The Wildcats too played hard, but failed to execute and finish. The six-point margin of defeat was the largest margin in the game as both teams went neck and neck. It seemed like all second half, the Wildcats were waiting for the flip to switch and to take over. There were times when Drew Crawford looked like he was about to go off. He scored a few points early in the second half and hit back-to-back 3-pointers late that seemed like it might propel Northwestern ahead in the end. Crawford scored 18 points, but hardly broke out of his funk shooting 6 for 14 from the floor, although his second half should help him regain confidence.
Reggie Hearn and Dave Sobolewski were all over the place on offense trying to keep Northwestern in the game. Maybe one of them would take over.
Hearn though shot only 4 of 9 from the foul line and Sobolewski missed both of his free throws, leading the way on a disappointing 10 for 20 night at the foul line. For a team that prides itself on shooting the ball well and having many shooters, this was simply unacceptable. Particularly in a tight game. Northwestern missed five free throws in the front end of 1-and-1s, leaving points on the board the team could not afford to lose. Particularly with UIC making all 14 of its free throws.
Further complicating matters was NU turning the ball over 16 times. The lack of turnovers is another point of pride for the Wildcats. And so a game like this was completely out of character.
Credit UIC’s defense some. The Flames did a great job crowding the paint and hedging on back door cuts. The Wildcats tried to force some of those passes, committing eight first half turnovers. But some of those turnovers were just unforced. NU was shooting itself in the foot a lot and it kept the team from establishing the offensive flow and rhythm the offense needs.
The Wildcats shot only 35.7 percent from the floor and 4 of 15 from long range. There was very little offensive rhythm and the Cats could not find the hot hand or Crawford when they really needed their star to take over.
With all the other problems the team has, NU could not overcome it, even against an opponent of UIC’s pedigree (and perhaps UIC will win the Horizon this year). Either way, it was not encouraging to see NU struggle with many of the same problems that led to a loss to Maryland and, partly, led to offensive struggles against Illinois State.
Further, UIC had 11 offensive rebounds including five from Crittle who was a workhorse on the glass and did a good job muscling up against Alex Olah on defense too.
Patterns are being developed and this might not be a “just one game” thing anymore. Whatever the issues of confidence or offense are, Northwestern needs to solve them fast with Baylor and Butler upcoming on the schedule.