One could certainly make the argument that Northwestern men’s basketball (6-11, 3-10 B1G) is stuck in a rut. With nine straight losses under their belt, the ’Cats were eyeing Wednesday night’s home game against Indiana (11-8, 6-6 B1G) as a chance to finally escape the jaws of defeat, with the Hoosiers already being one of Northwestern’s three conference wins. The forwards shot, the guards defended, and it almost seemed like the ’Cats had figured it out. Maybe, just maybe, the rut would cease.
As is the case with many ruts, however, it wasn’t letting them escape that easy.
The ’Cats lost to Indiana 79-76 in double overtime Wednesday night in a game that made Northwestern fans everywhere wonder if fate was punishing them for their early season hubris. Despite the ’Cats having several multiple possession leads late in the game, as well as four players scoring double-digit point totals, Northwestern wasn’t able to finish the job and watched the Hoosiers overpower them to victory.
“I hope you saw, we came out and we competed our butts off,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said postgame. “We fought, we had passion. Did we make mistakes? Yeah. Did we make every shot? No. We [didn’t] do everything right… but I love our team, I love our guys. And for them to come out and play as hard as they did, I'm just heartbroken that we weren't able to come away with a win, because I felt we really deserved it.”
Indiana was led in their effort by senior guard Al Durham, who led all scorers with 24 points. Durham also dominated a key stretch of the game. While the ’Cats led the Hoosiers 54-47 with under two minutes to play, Durham scored seven straight points to bring his team back into the game, sending the game to overtime with a clutch jump shot.
The Hoosiers also saw fantastic performances from sophomore guard Armaan Franklin, who turned in a fantastic stat line of 23 points with four 3-pointers, five rebounds, four steals and three assists, as well as sophomore forward Trayce Jackson-Davis, who notched a double-double with 10 points and 14 assists.
In their effort, the ’Cats saw a whopping four players turn in high scoring efforts: sophomore center Ryan Young with 11, sophomore forward Robbie Beran with 12, junior forward Pete Nance with 12, and sophomore guard Chase Audige with 19. Audige also had an amazing night across the board, adding three rebounds, four assists and four steals in another stellar performance.
“We knew he was a very talented player, we saw that in practice last year,” Collins said of Audige’s performance. “I think you're seeing his growth … I'd much rather have someone that you have to calm down than someone that you gotta light a fire. He's got great energy, he's got a great motor. And he's learning how to pick and choose his times to attack, when to get others involved, when to take the shot. That's part of the maturation to be a good player.”
Although the final score was high, the game actually started in a defensive struggle for both teams, as neither team could seem to find the basket: Indiana missed its first nine shots, while the ’Cats swished just 1-of-6. Taking advantage of the Hoosiers’ cold spell, Northwestern raced out to an early 21-10 lead. In typical Northwestern fashion, however, the offense quickly dried up and scored just 2 points over the last 8 minutes of the half, allowing Indiana to claw back into the game. At the end of the first, Northwestern led by just three, 23-20.
Both offenses woke up in the second half, however, as Northwestern and Indiana began a game of tic-tac-toe in fantastic shooting performances. Robbie Beran led the way for Northwestern, with three fantastic deep shots that had the ’Cats bench going crazy.
As expected, the ’Cats quickly went cold in the closing minutes, allowing Indiana’s Durham to go on the aforementioned seven-point run and send the game to overtime. In the first period, the ’Cats came out swinging with fantastic play by Pete Nance and Chase Audige, including a circus shot that almost seemed like a sign that NU’s luck was about to change, as they led the Hoosiers 66-60 with just a minute to go.
So what happened? The ’Cats simply fouled Indiana way more than necessary, allowing the Hoosiers to take four important free throws in that final minute and failing to match it on the other side. Durham once again played hero for the Hoosiers and came up with the clutch deep two to send the game to double overtime.
“[I] give them credit on some big shots,” Collins said. “Durham made a big bucket, they were able to keep getting to the foul line. Durham and Franklin really did a good job kind of getting by us getting into the paint, being able to foul or get scores.”
From there, the ’Cats just fell apart, and Indiana took a lead they would never surrender, winning the game 79-76.
“We were fighting hard all day,” Nance said postgame. “There were a couple mistakes away from turning the corner, a couple key plays, key moments that hurt us. They made the plays, and we didn’t.”
So what’s to blame this time? Simple: lack of discipline down the stretch. The ’Cats allowed Indiana to take 30 free throw shots in the second half and overtime periods, and the Hoosiers did not miss, making 25 of them. Despite several multi-possession leads with very little time to spare, NU’s inability to stop the offense without fouling spelled doom for them in the end.
But always the optimism: the ’Cats had four players score double-digit totals. The core looks intense, especially with new star-guard Chase Audige heading both fronts. Slumping shooters like Beran finally found their stroke again. If the ’Cats can find themselves defending clean shots again, maybe they’ll finally be back in the win column in their next game, when they travel to New Jersey to take on No. 25 Rutgers (11-7, 7-7 B1G).
The end to the rut is near.