Another day, another loss for the Wildcats. This downward spiral does not seem to be ending anytime soon, with the Wildcats losing to the Purdue Boilermakers 75-70 in West Lafayette. It seems as though the ’Cats’ are trying to make every game a comeback effort, not leading for a moment throughout this whole game, and continually digging themselves into holes time and time again. This makes 9 losses in a row for the Wildcats, landing them at 6-10 and slowly drifting away from their end of season goals.
“Disappointed in the result,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said postgame. “Obviously a lot of frustration trying to get in that win column. I thought there were some steps forward tonight … I'm not a big moral victory guy, but I really felt like we fought with great energy tonight … I thought we did a good job kind of fighting our way back, getting some stops, making some shots, all those things, we’re in a good spot. But I just thought there were a few self-inflicted things along the way.”
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers – this was the name of the game. While both teams combined for 27 total turnovers (15 for the ’Cats and 12 for the Boilermakers), a more evident breakdown of this was Purdue swarming the ’Cats’ on defense, stealing the ball 10 times (opposed to Northwestern’s paltry 3). This has clearly become a theme for Northwestern; taking care of the ball is something that hurts big time. The team highlighted this around 14:20 left in the second half. Northwestern made a great defensive stop and was off and running for a 2-on-1. What should’ve been an easy layup and potentially a massive swing of momentum ended up as a giveback right to the Boilermakers (since we were sloppy with the ball).
“15 turnovers,” Collins said. “The last three games, that's kind of been a bugaboo. We had 20 against Rutgers, we had 14 against Penn State, 15 tonight … that really isn't who we are when we're playing well, we usually take care of the ball, we get good shots. You look at the points off turnovers, they get 18 points off our turnovers, which is crushing in a two-possession game … this league is unforgiving.”
On the other end of the spectrum, both offensives were cooking at the beginning of the game. Both teams ended the game shooting >40% FG, but it was really the first half where the offense was booming. The big story of the first half was Purdue freshman Jaden Ivey, who tallied 14 points in the first half and ended up with 20 on the night, bringing the passion that the team needed. With 4:30 left in the first half, he hauled in a defensive rebound, turned, surveyed and took the ball coast to coast for an emphatic slam.
But over the next 4:30 to the end the first half, Northwestern was looking sharp. Taking a massive lead (33-20) with around three minutes left, Purdue was feeling a bit of a cushion. But the Wildcats did not want to end the half with a hole this big. Knocking down three-straight 3-bombs, Northwestern had fought back to within four, points and it seemed as though the momentum they were riding was finally going to take them somewhere. Audige capped off the half with a final three, and Purdue entered halftime only up 35-32. That final 3-bomb highlighted a 12-point half for Audige, who also notched four rebounds and dished three assists.
Another prominent factor that certainly showed itself in this game was free-throw shooting. The Boilermakers were able to earn ~31% of their points from the stripe, allowing them essentially free points. Also, given their chances at the stripe, they took advantage, sinking 23/24 Free Throw attempts. By the end of the game, Northwestern had amassed a total of 22 fouls, not remotely comparable to Purdue’s 15. This played a vital role in the outcome of the game. Clear evidence of this lies in the Cats’ amassing 5 fouls in the second half with 14 minutes still remaining, resulting in big man Ryan Young having to head to the bench for a stint early in the half. In summation, a great offensive performance by Purdue (having all four of their freshman scoring in double figures) was unstoppable.
Just like many of Northwestern’s games this season, the team has struggled to start the game on the right foot. Within the game’s first couple minutes, the Wildcats already found themselves in a 9-1 deficit. Although they were playing from behind for most of the night, the ’Cats do still deserve credit for their comeback efforts. After trailing by 11 with a minute left to play, the ’Cats were able to cut the lead to as low as four. While the outcome may not have been what the Wildcats hoped for, hopefully, they can carry this momentum into their next game. The pertinent question still remains: is Northwestern able to turn things around before the end of the season?