What a response.
Just one game removed from the debacle against Merrimack, Northwestern (1-1) took a commanding second-half lead against Providence (2-1) and did not look back in a 72-63 victory at Welsh-Ryan. Ryan Young had a breakout 16 point performance, capped off with a decisive score after Providence overcame a 19-point deficit in the second half. Although the ‘Cats played sloppy at times, decisive three-point shooting, solid interior play, and a staunch first-half defense ensured the win.
Providence began the game stone cold, unable to take advantage of numerous open threes. The Friars finished the first half 4-17 from three at a 28.6% clip overall from the field. Northwestern, ledy by Anthony Gaines and Pete Nance, started aggressively against Providence’s press, jumping out to an 8-2 lead off of a Pat Spencer layup. Providence closed the gap off streaky shooting and frequent trips to the free-throw line; the Friars frequently passed around Northwestern’s 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone coverage scheme but were unable to capitalize on open looks. The Friars’ size down low showed, as they kept possessions alive with an impressive ten offensive rebounds.
“We switched our defenses a little, we were going to have a lot of problems guarding them one on one,” said Coach Chris Collins. “Zones had a chance to keep them off balance.”
Pete Nance and Anthony Gaines looked as comfortable as they have looked all season. The former pulled from an array of moves, from backing his man in the post to hitting corner threes and driving into the paint. His explosiveness opened up shooting lanes for Miller Kopp and Robbie Beran, with the latter hitting on both of his attempts from the field in the first half. Gaines Northwestern rode Nance and Anthony Gaines to a 40-29 halftime lead.
The ‘Cats rode out the half on a 12-2 run and did not stop firing at the second. Pat Spencer hit a three as the shot clock wound down to beat the buzzer, Anthony Gaines hit an open three, and Spencer stole the ball before an easy lay-in but Providence down 18 early.
Ed Cooley’s men responded by attacking down low. Coach Collins trotted out a small lineup with Nance at center, and the Friars found themselves in the bonus within five minutes.
Providence fought their way back into the game, with guards David Duke and Chicago native Luwane Pipkins finding their stroke. The Friars took advantage of ten second-half turnovers by the ‘Cats; in particular, first-year Boo Buie was a repeat offender during Providence’s comeback. Ryan Young, however, controlled the paint for Northwestern. With Dererk Pardon’s departure, a dominant paint presence appeared lacking to begin the year, but foes will have to take Young seriously if he repeats his display tonight.
Down the stretch, both teams battled as Northwestern’s lead slowly slipped away, but Providence’s offense floundered; the Friars shot 22-72 (!) for the game. With around a minute left, Providence’s Malik White received a double technical after fouling Gaines. Northwestern hit some tough buckets down the stretch, none bigger than Ryan Young’s lay-in after Providence stormed to within three.
“Once they started pressuring us, once we got past that we opened up driving lanes,” Gaines said after the match. “We were able to dish it, hit our guys in the low post, and go up and finish.”
Free throws by Gaines and Spencer sealed Northwestern’s first — and one of their least expected — win of the season.
Young’s performance in particular shone. The big man pointed to his work last season with Pardon and Barrett Benson in refining his game.
“[My performance] was awesome,” Young said. “I can't attest enough to how Dererk and Barret helped me on and off the court. I was a really raw big man coming out of high school. They were both guys that helped me in every way. I can’t give them enough credit.”
Coach Collins could not have asked for a better response from his team, both in terms of production and with energy. The young ‘Cats played with the aggression and passion befitting a hungry squad. Last season began with tough performances against Georgia Tech, Michigan, and Oklahoma before unravelling during conference play. Time will tell how the ‘Cats build from this win, but the outlook for this team looks much brighter than it did Saturday morning.