On December 8, 2019, Purdue handed Northwestern men’s basketball its first conference loss of the season. The Wildcats fell 58-44 that day, and since then the team has had an unbearably bad time with its conference slate.
With only one Big Ten win—against a fellow cellar-dweller in Nebraska—and plenty of blown leads and bad play, the ’Cats have somehow been on pace for a season worse than 2018-19 (which was already pretty miserable). While the general consensus ahead of the season was that Northwestern would not be very competitive against conference opponents, few could have guessed how heartbreaking their losses would go down.
So when the Wildcats were up 58-50 late against the Boilermakers on Saturday night, anyone who has been following Northwestern’s season should’ve expected that the game could only end up one way: a loss.
An 11-0 run by Purdue (12-10, 5-6 B1G) in the game’s final three minutes, capped off by a game-winning 3-pointer with just three seconds left, indeed sealed the deal for Northwestern (6-15, 1-10 B1G). With the final score of 61-58 staring them in the face, the ’Cats walked off the Welsh-Ryan Arena court yet again empty-handed.
“Our record is not indicative, in my opinion, of where we should be,” said Northwestern head coach Chris Collins after the game. “But the reality is we haven't closed the deal on [late lead] games.”
Of course, Northwestern wouldn’t have been able to lose a lead had they never built one in the first place. Much of the team’s success on offense came from beyond the arc, as the ’Cats went 9-for-14 shooting threes in the game’s first 28 minutes. Miller Kopp (15 pts) and Robbie Beran (6 pts) saw success from long-range, and Boo Buie (12 pts, 4 ast, 3 TO) had a second-half hot stretch where he made three-consecutive treys.
But as much as they lived by the three, the Wildcats’ also died by the three. In the game’s final 11 minutes, nine of the team’s 13 shots were three-pointers, and they missed all of them. The shots played a large part in a stretch where Northwestern wasn’t able to take advantage of Purdue’s cold shooting. They scored just eight points, including zero in the final four-and-a-half minutes, while the Boilermakers rallied back.
“We just kept talking in the huddle,” said Purdue head coach Matt Painter about the final minutes. “‘Make some other guys take those shots. Don’t leave Miller Kopp, don’t leave Boo Buie. But if they’re driving, and they’re getting layups, and they’re getting to the paint, stop the basketball.’”
“We had a couple possessions where we were fortunate that they just missed some open shots,” Painter added.
The final three-pointer wasn’t the game’s only lead change, but it was its most absurd. Having led for most of the night—by margins as low as one and as high as 10—Northwestern was helped by poor performances by Purdue toward the beginning and near the end (both teams had multiple spells).
However, the team did produce some solid moments on their own that will unfortunately be overshadowed by the final result. In addition to Kopp, Beran and Buie making threes, Pat Spencer (10 pts, 7 reb) showed off the incredible athleticism the Wildcat-faithful have seen all season. Ryan Young (5 pts, 5 reb, 3 TO) had a pair of blocks in two minutes halfway through the second half, and Jared Jones (7 pts) notched two second-chance baskets off the bench.
On the Purdue side, Eric Hunter Jr. and Trevion Williams both led the team with 13 points (Williams also had seven rebounds, but paired it with four turnovers). Isaiah Thompson scored 11 points and went 3-for-6 from 3-point range, while Sasha Stefanovic, who had previously been 1-for-5 beyond the arc, erased his poor night and landed the game-winner for the Boilermakers.
While the game certainly wasn’t a 40-minute mess for the Wildcats, it was ultimately another setback in a season on the path of inspiring dread in even the most devoted fan. It remains to be seen if Northwestern can defeat currently-ranked Rutgers next Sunday at home (where the Scarlet Knights are 15-0), but the team will have plenty of time to prepare for it.
Game stats and details collected from StatBroadcast.