Nebraska Brings Northwestern Back To Reality 53-49


Northwestern’s unexpected, feel-good run is over. After winning five of its last seven games (all as the underdog), Northwestern was grounded Saturday. NU came in as the favorite and came out on the short end of a 53-49 Nebraska win.

In what Coach Chris Collins called a “fistfight,” Northwestern led 22-16 at halftime. The ‘Cats stuck to their game plan in the first half, as NU’s stout defense made Nebraska the team’s second opponent to be held under 17 points in the first half (Illinois scored 15). ┬áThe Cornhuskers shot 6-24 (25.0 percent) from the field and 2-11 from three-point range (18.2 percent). Star forward Terran Petteway was 1-7 shooting with four turnovers and just five points.

Offensively, JerShon Cobb gave NU its biggest spark with seven points in just 11 minutes. Cobb committed his second personal foul with 9:20 left in the first half and sat out the rest of the half. Alex Olah added seven points of his own, and Kale Abrahmson and Tre Demps scored four points and three points, respectively.

The offensive variety was a necessity with reigning Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week Drew Crawford struggling. Crawford went 0-4 in the first half with one point and four turnovers. It appeared Crawford was forcing poor shots, as he spent much of the half with ‘Huskers star Terran Petteway at his waist.

Crawford claims he did not feel any pressure to carry the team after winning the national honor. ” It was an honor to get that award, but I try not to pay attention to that stuff,” he said.

Despite Crawford’s woes, Northwestern looked in the driver’s seat at the break. The ‘Cats had its defense working with arguably the season’s highest student-turnout cheering them on.

Saturday’s game was a tale of two halves. In the first half, Nebraska played like the team that lost to UAB and Penn State. In the second half, it played like the team that beat Ohio State, Minnesota and Indiana.

The ‘Huskers opened the first 5:35 of the half on a 12-5 run to take the lead 28-27 at 14:25. Drew Crawford rediscovered some of his game for a few ‘Cats buckets, but other usual contributors such as Olah and Demps went silent.

The momentum continued to shift from the Land of Lincoln to the team from Lincoln, as Sanjay Lumpkin committed his fourth foul at 12:53. Although NU tied the game at 32 at the 10:42 mark on an Abrahamson three, Nebraska went on an immediate 8-0 run.

The ‘Huskers led 40-32, then 42-34 at the 6:57 mark and then 44-36 at 6:03. The magic appeared to be slipping in Evanston.

In similar style to the Purdue game, Northwestern stormed back. From 5:24 to 3:52, a span of 1:32, NU went on an 8-0 run of its own. Crawford drilled two three-pointers and Demps added a lay-up to tie the scored at 44-44.

On the following possession, a Tre Demps jump shot from the foul line rattled out, halting a possible ‘Cats lead.

“This game in the last four minutes, it’s tied up and Tre put up a good look that would have put us up two. He missed it. We got a foul on the rebound,” Collins said after the game.

Olah committed a foul on the rebound, and with Nebraska in the bonus, Walter Pitchford knocked down two foul shots. After a Crawford miss, Pitchford was true from long range (he went 3-3 from three in the second half).

Cobb chipped the lead to 49-46 at 1:53, but a Terran Petteway bomb from NBA three-point range as the shot clock expired gave Nebraska a 52-46 lead with 22 seconds left.

Lumpkin hit a three second later, but it was a little too late for the Wildcats, as Nebraska ended the game on a 9-5 run for a four-point victory.

Saturday was a reminder of reality. Northwestern is a below average Big Ten team right now. The Wildcats have been lucky and clutch enough to pull out a few close games. Things have to go right for the ‘Cats to win, but in life, things do not always go as planned. Saturday’s game is a reminder Northwestern is not going to win every close game.

There are positives to take away. The defense was ferocious again in the first half. Nebraska had just six points in the paint and two fast break points in the half. From 10:56 to 4:24, Nebraska did not score a point. That is right. Not even a free throw. No points for the ‘Huskers for a period of 6:32.

“Our defense held up the whole game. We held them to 53 points and low percentage shooting,” Collins said.

It was the offense that was problematic on Saturday. Crawford had 13 points, but 12 came in the second half. His shooting numbers of 4-13 from the field and 2-6 from three-point range are not up to his level. Cobb scored 14 points, but other than that duo, no ‘Cats were in double figures. Tre Demps noticeably had a poor game for his standards, shooting 2-6 for just five points.

“It’s hard for us to score. That’s not new,” Collins said.

Teams that give up 53 points should win basketball games. NU’s offense is a poor sample size of college basketball. When the team needed to come through Saturday against a bottom tier Big Ten team, Northwestern did not come through.

Nebraska shot 56.5 percent in the second half and 55.6 percent from beyond the arch. When the Cornhuskers lit up the scoreboard, Northwestern had no offensive answer.

If there were any NCAA Tournament hopes for Northwestern, the many have ended with Saturday’s loss to Nebraska. It is easy to forget this team started the season with no expectations. Collins is trying to keep it that way.

“Never, one time, the whole year, have we talked about wins and losses,” he said of the postseason. Although, an NIT bid is likely the current goal.

Northwestern lost to a team it should have beat on Saturday (is that something anyone expected to hear in December?). Now, the ‘Cats need to regroup and find out where to fill up the holes. The defense and Drew Crawford can only do so much against Michigan State.


Why Did the Offense Struggle?

Above is my analysis of the game as a whole. However, this afternoon, I have some critiques of the offense.

Crawford, Cobb and Demps have been hitting outside shots in the clutch like no other trio in the nation. Every time NU needed a big shot during its recent stretch, one of those three guys would dig for a remarkable clutch bucket.

At some point, the whimsical shots were not going to work. Saturday was that day.

Crawford and Demps should not be isolating themselves on every play. In the first half Saturday, Crawford tried to create plays when the openings were not there. Petteway had him on lockdown, but Crawford kept trying to go one-on-one on Nebraska’s star. The result was a series of forced shots and turnovers, not to mention zero field goals.

He also put up a contested three-pointer in the last minute. Despite Drew Crawford being Drew Crawford, NU could have gotten a better shot in a tight game.

Likewise, Demps loves nothing more than to take defenders one-on-one and set up long jump shots. Demps will not make all of these. It is okay for Demps to pass the ball around. He does not have to be the hero on every possession.

Northwestern also struggled against Nebraska’s zone defense both times the ‘Huskers went to it near the end of each half. Collins admitted Northwestern had some “stagnant possessions” and created turnovers went trying to drive against the zone defense. These players are too good to drive into a 2-3 zone or throw errand passes through a zone.

Ball movement is king in college basketball and Northwestern needs to use this simple offensive concept more. If Northwestern continues to go iso on every possession, this offensive will not go anywhere.

From a New York Knicks’ fan to Northwestern fans, iso will not always work.

  • Al

    We now return you to your regularly-scheduled Northwestern basketball season.

    • Chasmo

      What does that mean?
      If you feel this game represented a return to the way the Cats played in its first three games of the season, you are wrong.
      Because of the way it has to play defense due to its lack of size, NU will lose every game it plays against teams that can hit 3’s because that’s what NU gives up in order to clog the lane and team rebound on defense. UN hit 3’s and so NU lost. Had UN shot as poorly from the 3-point line today as Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota had, the Cats would have won today’s game and all would be right with the world.

  • Bandcat

    Would like to see Alex bank it in off the glass a lot Sonjay….he needs to find some shot he can convert on . That game was won defensively in the first half and we failed to put them away. Just a shame we have not got one more player to put on the floor to help relieve the fatigue factor… Tap and Sobo must not be showing anything in practice…

    • Chasmo

      If Lumpkin doesn’t improve his offensive skill this summer, it will be interesting to see what happens to him in the next three years. He is an outstanding defender but he is also someone opponents don’t bother to guard as he is as unlikely to hit a layup as he is a jump shot.
      If the Cats get great offensive production from its frosh next year, Collins can afford to play Lumpkin big minutes for his energy and defensive skills. Or if Lumpkin can improve his game to the point where other teams have go actually guard him, he can play big minutes.
      But if Lumpkin continues to play at this low level on offense, his role will be reduced.
      Let’s hope for the best for him.

      • Richard

        Defense is half the game.

        In fact, defense and rebounding are more than half the game.

        Dennis Rodman was one of the most valuable players in the NBA when he played despite attempting virtually zero shots and scoring virtually zero points every game.

        • Johnathan Wood

          yes, but Rodman was on a lot of teams that were loaded with scoring elsewhere.

  • Chasmo

    The a lack of a true point guard hurt NU in this game. The offense looked totally out of synch vs. Nebraska and open shots were rare. The Cats have looked awful on offense in the past because they missed open shots. NU looked awful vs. Nebraska because Cobb and Demps couldn’t get the Cats into their offense.
    Sobo is a better point guard but he is such a liability on defense and so terrible on offense that this superior play-making ability can’t compensate for his other failings.
    An athletic point guard would do wonders for NU and let’s hope either Vassar or McIntosh can fill that role for NU next year.

    • Bandcat

      Just wonder how many pounds Sobo dropped coming into this season to pick up on the speed factor…feel terrible for the kid and still hope he can contribute . Cannot believe he is not working hard.

  • kingbucky

    Back to Earth it is…no good reason for this loss. No outcry. Crickets instead. This being so with all starters playing, unlike last year when 3 starters were not playing at this point. But, Collins is the next John Wooden, so all is well. Except, not.

    • Cebpd

      At least they haven’t slid as far as Wisconsin has.

      • kingbucky

        Oh yes, 12-12 is so much better than 18-5. Except, not.
        But, hey, with the Next John Wooden on board, it’s a comin’!

        • cebpd

          the simple fact you’re trolling an NU board in mid-february speaks volumes about where you guys are. sorry

          • kingbucky

            No, 19-5 speaks volumes.

            Yes, I troll this heady site. Except, not. Sorry.

        • cebpd

          Where was wisconsin ranked 5 weeks ago? Exactly.

  • Jim J

    No need to over analyze this game. This game is on Crawford. With the lack of any consistent offense, the Cats go as far as Crawford goes. 4-13 shooting and NO points in the 1st 25 minutes of the game is not going to get it done. Sure he had a few 3s down the stretch but how many empty drives into the lane did Drew have this game (BTW: 5 turnovers today)?
    Lets assume the Cats will bring a tough defense every game from here on out, but if we can’t shoot over 40% I’ll assume we lost the game….is that a fair assumption??? Shocking but Sad truth, despite all this excitement over NU BBall we are still shooting only 39.9% as a team (which ranks us 330 out of all 351 Division I teams in the country -SIMPLY PATHETIC)!!!!

    • Bballcats

      LTP, even though Crawford had some points in the 2nd….this loss is ALL on him. 5 turnovers and then 9 missed shots?(which were not good shots but rather forced). That is 14 possessions wasted away. Half a point per possession and we still have 7 points off those. Careless turnovers too, not good d by Nebraska. He’s also had some poor nights earlier and no one mentioned it because the team could pull it out…but 14 possessions wasted by bad shots or sloppiness is completely inexcusable by Crawford and the reason we won’t have a sliver of hope for NCAA rests solely on him.

      • Bandcat

        Lumpkin missing bunnies ….Olah and Cerina combining for what? Crawford not playing well and obviously feelin the pressure.Plenty of blame to go around.Nebraska had enough left in the tank to deliver the knockout punch in the fistfight.Just not over the hump with depth. The Times They Will Be A Changing..

        • fidel305

          Those lumpkin misses were killers

          • Chasmo

            It will be interesting to see what happens to Lumpkin if he is unable to improve his offense game during the summer. He is a good defender and rebounder but he is such a liability on offense that NU often is playing four on five because opponents don’t bother to guard him. If Lumpkin can improve his finishing around the rim and if he can hit the odd open shot, then he could easily be a four-year starter for NU but if he continues at this level, he could lose his job as NU’s talent level improves.

          • fidel305

            can’t have him on the wing waiting for someone to kick it to him for a three. the defenses are not guarding him. for good reason. Collins needs to tweak the offense, use him in the screen and roll but not like this

      • fidel305

        He’s just a college kid and there wasn’t any real hope of an NCAA bid this year anyway. So lighten up

      • Chasmo

        This loss is all on Crawford only if you thought he was going to emerge as a superstar who can win games by himself this year. If you thought he was a good player who lacked the ability to be a star, then the loss is not all on Crawford.
        You might as well have said this loss was all on Tre Demps because NU’s big shot specialist missed a wide open 13-footer with the score tied and NU riding a wave of comeback momentum. If you thought he was a streak shooter who misses more often than he makes shots, then the loss is not all on Demps.

    • Johnathan Wood

      Ironically the first 25 minutes were when Northwestern was winning.

  • PastorCat

    Last week we hit a few big shots, won by slim margins, and we called them brilliant.
    Yesterday they missed a few big shots, lost by a slim margin, and now we’re terrible??
    Methinks we’re getting too high…and too low. I still hold out hope for he NIT.

    • fidel305

      Yep. They play hard but there’s no margin for error with his team. A couple of extra missed shots or defensive lapses and the game is lost, even against a Nebraska. But you have to applaud the effort and the coaching

  • Alum dad

    If Crawford is good the Cats usually have a chance. If he is bad they usually fare poorly. Unfortunately he is wildly inconsistent and has been his entire time at NU. He seems like a nice kid and I’m glad he returned for his final year, but he is not someone you can count on day in and day out. Unlike some other recent opinions on this site, I think his chances of making it to the NBA are nil.

  • NUBobby95

    Can’t believe no comments mention the officiating in the game. Some of the worst I have ever seen and one ref looked like he wanted to fight CC. The four point swing on the obvious goaltending was the difference in the game.

    • Andrew

      Cry me a river. Missed shots and poor play were what hurt. Not the poor officiating.

  • Catatonic Joe

    I just wanted to share a personal story that showed me that the culture has already begun changing for Northwestern basketball. My wife and daughter were both not home during Saturday’s game. As each got home, they asked how the game turned out. When I told them that the Cats lost, each responded with a stunned, “You’re kidding!” I have long said that the difference between Northwestern and other B1G schools is that other school’s fans believe their team is going to win and being a little shocked when they don’t. Props to you, Chris Collins, we are shocked and disappointed when we lose now.

    • Jim J

      Nice story. But you know when the culture has changed when your wife and daughter rearrange their schedules and can’t leave the house cuz the Cats are playing right into March Madness…Sorry, I’m speaking for myself but can’t a family man dream???

  • LTP

    This one really, really hurt. That historical “we can’t win when we’re favored” theme just really gets to me. For a team that was defying the odds, you felt they really needed this one to prove that they could fight the karma of history. Wulp, wouldn’t shock me if they somehow upset Sparty. It’s been that kinda season.

  • Bob Parkman

    The Princeton was about ball movement and the people away from the ball moving too. These are solid principles in any offense. NU needs to remember.

    • kingbucky

      Yes, a concept lost on CC, the Wizard of Evanston…