While one team celebrated in the locker room, the other had their Senior Day spoiled. Though the Wildcats (13-8, 4-16 B1G) fought hard in a spirited Welsh-Ryan arena, the team couldn’t pull off a win against the Purdue Boilermakers (23-8, 16-4), falling 70-57 in their final regular season game. The loss closed out a difficult conference season for Northwestern, who struggled to stay afloat in the competitive Big Ten. Purdue’s victory secured them a share of the Big Ten regular season title.
Toward the end of the game, Vic Law (13 pts, 7 reb) went down and had to be helped off the court. A team representative said Law sustained a lower-body injury and that further evaluation is needed. With the Big Ten tournament coming up on Wednesday, it is undetermined if Law will miss what is potentially Northwestern’s last game of the season and the last of his career.
The early game was a 3-point fest for both teams, as Northwestern and Purdue each shot 4-for-8 from beyond the arc halfway through the first half. Law, Miller Kopp (7 pts) and Anthony Gaines (9 pts) were the team’s only three scorers for the most of the first half, attempting well over half of the team’s shots.
Dererk Pardon (8 pts, 2 reb) was mysteriously quiet on both ends of the court, going 0-for-4 from the field, while A.J. Turner (14 pts), who was wearing injured senior Jordan Ash’s #23, missed his three shots of the half. Pete Nance (3 pts, 5 reb) had some sneakily good moments, including a thunderous block, a contested jump-ball, and a three off the backboard.
A team that has struggled on offense for most of the season caught a break as Purdue had difficulty connecting long shots, with more than a few “air-ball” chants coming from the student sections. The Boilermakers also couldn’t take control of the charity stripe, missing five of their first six free throws. They were helped, however, by an impressive half one 8-to-0 offensive rebounding advantage.
The end of the first half got testy, aided by a Welsh-Ryan crowd comprised of many Purdue fans. Coach Chris Collins argued a foul on Dererk Pardon a bit too passionately, leading to a rare technical on the otherwise-restrained coach. A lane violation call on Northwestern led to more free throws, prompting angry student reactions and delight from Boilermaker fans. A few minutes later, the teams headed into the break with Purdue up 33-25. The only thing able to unite the arena was an impressive halftime routine by The Firecrackers Jump Rope Team.
Heading back into the game, Northwestern found it difficult to maintain any sort of strong momentum on either side of the court. Purdue grew more efficient on their trips down the court, and the team's lead grew to 15. But Pardon and Turner decided to break out of their slumps at the right moment, as some successful plays in the paint and past the arc, respectively, took them to within seven.
But quickly, the game turned scary. Law, who had been visibly in pain earlier in the half with some physical tie-ups with Purdue, ran into Boilermaker star Carsen Edwards (21 pts, 5 ast) while dribbling and hit the court. The arena went silent, both sides realizing the severity of the moment due to his calls for help. He was carried off the court to applause, and though he wouldn’t check into the game again, he later returned in uniform to NU’s bench.
Observant Wildcat fans know that Vic Law has had injury trouble throughout his career. It has led to several absences: Law sat out in an away game against Michigan this year, missed the end of the 2017-18 season, and didn’t play in 2015-16.
“I know Vic’s gonna do everything in his power to keep going,” said Collins after the game. “He’s a fighter . . . I know that if there’s a way for him to keep playing he will, but we’ll find out more. He’s going through the tests and we’ll figure it out.”
From there, Purdue responded to any serious Northwestern threats and maintained a sizeable lead. Even though Turner got hot and hit two more three-pointers to bounce back from a rough first half, it wasn’t enough. An Edwards three after the lead had dropped to seven proved crucial as the remaining four minutes saw no further response from the ’Cats.
Pardon and Falzon (3 pts) checked out of the game in the final minute to close out their time at Evanston, and once the clock hit zero Purdue celebrated their successful Big Ten season. The Boilermakers, led by Edwards, were assisted by Nojel Eastern (15 pts, 5 reb), Matt Haarms (11 pts, 6 reb) and Trevion Williams (6 pts, 7 reb).
After the game, Collins praised the rebound Purdue basketball has had since he first started coaching at Northwestern.
“They do the little things really well, and they’re a really tough-minded team,” said Collins about Purdue. “They’ve found the right guys to embody what they want their program to be, and that’s where we need to go.”
Before the game, four Wildcat seniors and two redshirt juniors were honored in the Senior Day ceremony. Law, Pardon, Ash, Taylor (who also did not play), Falzon and Charlie Hall were celebrated on the court with their families. Hall, the son of actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, started the game to cheers from the crowd and played for the first two minutes.
“It meant a lot, especially knowing that the other guys in my class wanted me out there with them," Hall said. "It was a really surreal moment and not something I was expecting. And so to be out there was really special and something I’ll never forget.”
Northwestern holds the #14 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, and will face off against the #11 seed on Wednesday, March 20, at the United Center.