Thursday was one of the most exciting and surprising performances from Northwestern in recent memory. The Wildcats were undermanned, playing without six scholarship players, took the Buckeyes to the brink on the road and nearly pulled off a surprising upset.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats could not close and an incredible effort from the Cats fell short. There certainly was some surprise that caught Ohio State off guard in the initial moments. The Buckeyes seemed like they thought they could walk through the game and win. But Northwestern is too good and committed to executing its offense for any defense to fall asleep against, even with the team somewhat depleted.
If there is one thing Northwestern must duplicate to compete the rest of this season with all these injuries hampering the team it is the way the team executed in the early part of that game Thursday. The Wildcats must continue to work hard to take advantage of any back-door cut opportunities and hit 3-pointers are an efficient rate.
Against Ohio State on Thursday, Northwestern was 11 for 26 from beyond the arc. That helped build confidence and set the tone for the team. Particularly early on in the game, it was important for this to happen. Building confidence is so important for this team now.
The key for the Wildcats will be finding early success yet again and building confidence. Particularly, Northwestern cannot play from behind. It was clear from early on that the Cats were trying to slow the game down and limit possessions. Without all the offensive options, this seems like a sound strategy. One that is familiar in the Bill Carmody-era when his teams often did not have the same talent level as its opponents.
In Thursday’s game, the teams each had 54 possessions. Northwestern’s season average is 62. That is a pretty significant slowdown for the Wildcats, but it was integral to the strategy. With limited possessions that means shot selection and making shots also become important. The Wildcats had that high shooting percentage and score 109.3 points per 100 possessions. It was the Wildcats’ fourth highest offensive efficiency rating in Big Ten play.
Perhaps ironically, it is not all about offense as Northwestern is 2-2 in those games.
Yes, defense is and will continue to be a problem for this team. Particularly without the players the Cats are missing.
Ohio State posted 127.8 points per 100 possessions and shot 45.5 percent from the floor. The Buckeyes run at the end of the game — a 12-0 run that gave them their 10-point margin — may have accounted for much of this. Both teams were scoring at an efficient clip until that point when Northwestern’s offense slowed down considerably.
Defense has always been a question for the Northwestern team. And it seems unlikely that the Wildcats will be able to copy the offensive efficiency they displayed at Columbus earlier this week. That means the Wildcats have to find a way to get stops when the team struggles offensively.
There was a lot of good that came from Thursday’s game. There is no denying that. Whether the Wildcats can copy that success starting Sunday against the Illini.