Head meet scratch. The ‘Cats just pulled out a win in Waco over a Baylor team that beat Kentucky on Saturday. Let me repeat that. This very Baylor team beat Kentucky at Kentucky for the first time an opponent won in 56 games there. Northwestern lost to UIC on that same day. Not many gave the Northwestern Wildcats a chance considering the Kentucky Wildcats got manhandled by this very team. Yet, there we were, opening the second half with a 19-4 run to go up by 18 points and all of a sudden we looked like Maryland did against us. Fast forward what seemed like the longest 10 minutes of basketball time I can remember and one of the ugliest free throw festivals you’ve ever seen and it seemed NU was tenths of a second away from letting it all slip away. We actually won this game 74-70, yet why is it that I feel like we didn’t win, but rather we didn’t lose? Welcome to bizarroland, also known as the 2012-13 Wildcats season. Holy smokes, what the hell just happened?
Let’s first give out some much deserved props. David Sobolewski and Reggie Hearn, take a bow. The two of you played like warriors. Hearn fouled out with about four minutes to go, but in real time that felt like, oh, an hour or so. Sobo, meanwhile, shut down the Big12 Player of the Year (Preseason) for 75% of this game. Pierre Jackson, the Baylor feisty point guard was frustrated. He had ZERO FGs through nearly 30 minutes of play and then proceeded to do more of the run in to the defender and hoist up shots, drawing whistles every single time, it was if Cedric Neloms had come back as the ghost of opponents now. Good gracious, was I getting pissed at the officiating. With over 10 minutes to go, Northwestern was over the team limit – 10 fouls – meaning every whistle the rest of the way would be two FTs for Baylor. Bill Carmody decided to stay in man and Baylor wisely went to a high low post game to simply create match-ups to draw fouls and it worked. What really worked was Baylor’s full court in your face, Illinois State like pressure. Poor Sobo, is the ONLY guy on this NU team capable of protecting the ball in that situation and every possession became life or death and that was just in terms of getting it over the timeline in :10. Seniors melted in to scared freshmen – except for Sobo and Hearn. If you can’t appreciate how gassed Sobo was, yet still managed to run the offense and down the stretch come up with several HUGE back door passes, then you don’t appreciate basketball in my opinion.
Once again, Northwestern struggled mightily down the stretch from the FT line (after starting 8-10) and it enabled Baylor to get back in the game. You’ve got to really question Bill Carmody’s personnel management as several times after stoppages in play, he elected to leave Alex Olah, a 27% FT shooter in the game and Baylor went to the Hack-a-Shaq approach on our big fella. It worked. Alex did hit a pair of FTs on their first attempt, but after that the floodgates of bad FT shooting occurred and we missed 7 of 8 at one point in the final three minutes. For those of you that missed this, think of every fourth quarter football lead we’ve had in the past two years PRIOR to the Michigan State game this year and you know exactly what I’m talking about. As a fan you went “scoreboard….clock….total possessions left…uh oh….still might be time”. You know the formula.
Watching the ‘Cats cling on in this one was painful. So painful it temporarily blinded me to the fact that WE JUST BEAT BAYLOR ON THE ROAD. As painful as the UIC loss was, this one is the type of game that can right your non-conference resume in a hurry. Assuming Baylor gets its act together and plays most games like it did the final 15 minutes of this one against us, they’ll hover in the Top 25 by season’s end. But man, do we have a long way to go.
Lost in most of this post is the good that happened in bulging out to an 18-point lead. It was by far the best 30 minutes of basketball and it really had a lot to do with defense. The ‘Cats, surprisingly successful in mostly man-to-man, limited Pierre Jackson and kept the Maryland-like big men (not named Len) off the glass. Baylor didn’t score a field goal for nearly eight minutes to start the second half. The continued trend of solid FG % shooting defense was on once again, yet I kept thinking about the fact UIC shot 30% and beat us.
A couple of themes that (re)surfaced tonight:
- When we commit to crashing the defensive glass, get position and stay active with our hands great things happen; we outrebounded Baylor by 12 – when was the last time we outrebounded a solid team?
- When Drew Crawford is on, Sobo protects the rock and we have guys hitting back-door lay-ups we can hang with most
- When Drew Crawford disappears for long stretches, we get really scary on offense
- Sobolewski is highly underrated and plays like a senior leader
- We are beyond poor at handling full court pressure
- Run for cover when its a close game and we need to make our free throws
Many good things happened tonight. Alex Olah played well in spurts and really held his own in the paint and aside from the free throw debacle, you could see him gaining confidence as the night went on. Mike Turner was scrappy on the boards as was Reggie Hearn and Jared Swopshire. We crashed very well defensively on the glass and had good positioning and active hands. Northwestern – get this – outrebounded Baylor 35-23 on the glass and the combination of Hearn, Swopshire, Olah and Crawford did most of that damage. Reggie played extremely well pouring in 17 points and 10 rebounds despite fouling out. It’s also fair to say that officiating was pretty poor. I wish I could cut a highlight package of Pierre Jackson’s fouls and how ludicrous so many of them were. The refs were just plain inconsistent down the stretch. They let Baylor bump and bump and bump, but would call ticky tack fouls on one trip, but not the next. Northwestern did themselves no favors as we looked, at times, like a CYO team trying to bring up the ball against a major D1 program. Be forewarned ‘Cats fans, every B1G team will be fullcourt pressuring us after watching this tape and the Illinois State game.
Then there is David Sobolewski. The kid just has moxie. Every bounce, every spin up court with the lightning quick Pierre Jackson waiting to pounce on him like Pat Baldwin used to in the day, is exhausting enough. Then, he would find another gear, run through the offense and more often times than not, find someone for a great look. Early in the second half, when we were locking down Baylor, Sobo just simply created offense. The shot clock was winding down, he’d take it hard to the hole and get fouled. He was the catalyst for that 19-4 outburst and got everyone going. Then, and you knew it was coming, Baylor made their big run. Everyone on NU seemed afraid to have the ball, but not Sobo. He wanted the rock. His 13 point, 3 reb, 3 asst game and just 1 turnover in 37 minutes don’t come close to doing justice how clutch he was in this one. Game ball, David Sobolewski.
You can criticize and point out flaws all you want, but that is a great win. A fantastic win and quite candidly one of the better bounceback games I can remember in some time by Bill Carmody. He had the ‘Cats ready to play and we did, for a good 30 minutes. Amazingly, we played 10 just awful minutes and still managed to beat an upper tier Big12 team on the road, albeit before a sparse, but rowdy crowd (at least down the stretch). Congratulations to the staff and the ‘Cats, who at 7-2 now return to Evanston to host an always tough Butler Bulldogs team. If we can somehow play like we did in the first 30 for 40, we might very well get the season momentum back.
Coach Carmody needs to find the confidence to play more guys more minutes by B1G season, however, if we’re going to have any prayer of competing for a .500 record in conference. Once again, he sat guys like Tre Demps, and barely played Kale Abrahamson and frankly only used Alex Marcotullio (who was severly overmatched and played one of his worst games) because of Hearn fouling out and Sobo getting his fourth with five minutes to go. We are really missing Nikola Cerina on the boards right now and we don’t know what we’re missing with Sanjay Lumpkin quite yet, but the rotation needs to expand. Especially if you can hit a free throw in clutch time.
Again, a gutsy win, and any win, even ugly ones like that are gorgeous on the resume. Here is the box score for NU:
|Jared Swopshire, F||33||5-12||0-3||2-4||3||7||2||0||0||1||4||12|
|Drew Crawford, G-F||39||6-11||2-5||5-6||3||5||2||1||0||5||2||19|
|Reggie Hearn, G||36||6-11||0-3||5-6||2||10||2||1||0||3||5||17|
|Dave Sobolewski, G||37||3-4||3-4||4-8||0||3||3||0||0||1||4||13|
|Alex Marcotullio, G||8||0-0||0-0||0-0||0||0||1||0||0||2||0||0|
|Mike Turner, F||13||0-2||0-0||0-0||1||3||2||0||0||0||3||0|