Northwestern shows signs of life in valiant effort against Ohio State
Expectations for Northwestern are pretty low right now. After three straight lifeless 20-point blowouts, there is not a ton of confidence that Northwestern can do much to provide hope for the final few games of the season. At some point, the team had to show some life and some pride. A reason to feel good.
It may have been another loss — a heartbreaking one — but not all is lost this season after all the injuries and the trials this team has gone through. Northwestern showed signs of life. The team showed some grit and toughness. There was desire and confidence. Things that have been lacking the last three or four games. The next three games may not be completely painful to watch.
Not if the Wildcats play with the confidence and spunk they played with in a 63-53 loss to the Buckeyes at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Thursday.
Above are statistics known as the Four Factors and are regarded as indicative contributors to wins and losses. Please see the end of this post for an explanation.
Unlike previous games, Northwestern did not let an early barrage of 3-pointers take the team out of the game. It executed its offense with patience and precision for most of the night. The team adjusted its defense and controlled the pace of play. The Wildcats did exactly what they need to do to win games. It still was ultimately not enough.
Ohio State was poised down the stretch, not letting NU’s newfound confidence ruin the opportunity for the win. It was the Buckeyes shooting into passing lanes and harassing Wildcats ballhandlers down the stretch. It was Aaron Craft splitting the top of NU’s 2-3 zone and draining a free-throw line jumper to give Ohio State a four-point lead late. It was asking a lot for Northwestern to continue to execute and get stops. Not with the possessions mattering so much more and the need to play with some urgency.
In all, the Wildcats’ 15 turnovers, 13 coming from four players, were a lot to overcome against the Buckeyes. Ohio State was able at times to get the kind of open shots it wants beyond the arc and were able to score against NU’s transition defense. Lenzelle Smith, Jr. scored 24 points on 6-for-11 shooting from beyond the arc. Deshaun Thomas added 21. They were able to pace the Buckeyes throughout the game.
However, Northwestern settled the game down and played it at its pace for most of the contest. That meant Ohio State was setting up its half court offense against Northwestern’s 2-3 zone for most of the game. The Buckeyes took plenty of outside shots — 8 of 22 from beyond the arc — but they could not hit 3-pointers at a consistent enough rate to make the Cats pay. Certainly not enough to get them out of the 2-3 zone after torching the 1-3-1 early on.
The difference tonight from some of those other games was on offense. The Wildcats were able to work through their offense and generally get good shots. They made 41.9 percent of their shots, which is pretty good considering where Northwestern’s offense has been lately. There was the sense that eventually NU’s patience would get the team a good basket.
And when the Cats did that enough, there was confidence that the ball would fall on some crazy shots — like Kale Abrahamson’s miracle fling that gave NU its first lead of the game midway through the second half.
Tre Demps scored 14 points to lead Northwestern. Dave Sobolewski added 13 points and Kale Abrahamson and Alex Olah each added nine points. Everyone had their moments for sure.
The problem came down to execution when the pressure was on. And as much confidence as you could have in Northwestern working patiently through its offense midway through the second half, that confidence seemed to disappear as time ran down. Northwestern committed turnovers on three consecutive possessions with less than three minutes to go in the game and the pressure was only increasing with each missed opportunity.
Northwestern had the opportunity for sure. But in the end, it was Ohio State taking the game. Much like the team did in Columbus two weeks ago.
It was great to see the Wildcats put together such an encouraging effort after the last three games. Hopefully it continues to roll over into the next game.
Offensive Rating measures points scored per 100 possessions.
Effective field goal percentage measures field goal percentage taking into account the added value of a 3-point shot.
Offensive rebound percentage measures the percentage of offensive rebounds over total rebounds.
Turnover percentage estimates what percentage of a team’s possessions end in a turnover.
Free throw rate measures the rate of free throw attempts over field goal attempts.