In the first half of their game against Rutgers on Sunday, the Northwestern men’s basketball team was absolutely rolling, draining shots and playing stingy defense. On the other side, it seemed like the Scarlet Knights had a lid over their basket, going 0-for-9 from the 3-point line and turning the ball over at every turn. This was truly Northwestern’s game to lose.
And if you’ve followed Northwestern basketball at all this year, you know that they did just that.
The ’Cats (6-16, 1-11 B1G) lost an overtime slugfest in New Jersey, in a game that highlighted the team’s need to close games. After leading 62-48 with 7:47 left to play, the Scarlet Knights went on an 18-4 run to close regulation and force overtime, where they’d win 77-73. The Knights’ comeback was led by junior guard Geo Baker, who came off the bench to score a whopping 25 points, while also grabbing 6 rebounds and dishing 5 assists.
“I was really proud of our guys," said Northwestern head coach Chris Collins postgame. "I thought we came into a very difficult environment, and got off to a great start ... even as we were trying to withstand their runs I thought we did some good things with a lot of young kids out there going through it for the first time."
Coming off over a week long break after losing to Purdue, Northwestern did look sharp across the board early. Freshman Boo Buie (19 pts) and sophomore Miller Kopp (16 pts) set the pace with fantastic shooting from beyond the arc, while freshman Jared Jones (11 pts) made the team’s presence within the paint. On the other side, Rutgers could not get the ball to drop, going an aforementioned 0-for-9 from downtown.
The ’Cats, however, went down a path trodden many times before: foul trouble and ice-cold stretches. The ’Cats allowed Rutgers to take 34 free throws and make 21 of them, while going completely cold in the last seven minutes of regulation, scoring only four points and allowing Rutgers to make up a 14-point deficit.
This trend is not new to the ’Cats. After racing out to double-digit leads against Maryland and Purdue, the team dropped both those games after letting their opponents go on lengthy scoring runs in the waning minutes. Collins had previously commented that they hadn’t been able to close late-lead games, which was on full display against Rutgers.
“Really tough loss for us," said Collins. "We’ve had about four or five of these over our last seven, eight games. It can go one of two ways: it either makes you tougher and you keep fighting, or you back down, and I know there’s no lack of fight in our group."
With eight games left to play and only one conference win under their belt, it looks like the ’Cats have booked their stay in the basement of the Big Ten. They’ll take on Michigan at Welsh-Ryan arena on Wednesday, but unless the game suddenly becomes five minutes shorter, don’t trust any lead.