Merrimack, unfortunately, was not just a hiccup.
In a night that forewarned how difficult the 2019-20 season could be for an inexperienced Wildcat team, Northwestern (1-2) fell to Radford (2-2) 67-56 at Welsh-Ryan Arena after a disastrous performance on offense. Aggravated by a lack of first half points, the ugly loss was a difficult pill to swallow following a win over Providence that had inspired hope for the ’Cats.
Northwestern was initially cruising, jumping out to a 12-4 lead largely thanks to graduate player Pat Spencer (8 pts, 6 ast, 3 TO). Though the former lacrosse superstar went a perfect 3-for-3 in two-point shooting, those buckets would also end up being his only field goals for the rest of the game (with about 30 minutes of total playing time).
Good things don’t come easy for the Wildcats, and it soon showed when their engine sputtered completely out. Following the game’s first timeout, the ’Cats were absolutely lost on offense in the first half, unable to hold on to the early momentum they had.
Northwestern couldn’t convert wide open looks, hold on to the ball, or simply get points. For an unfathomable 12 minutes, the team failed to make a single basket. Though there wasn’t a lid over the rim, the Wildcats certainly made it seem that way.
No matter who was on the court and shooting for Northwestern—whether it was sophomores Pete Nance (16 pts, 10 reb), Miller Kopp (13 pts, 3 reb, 2 TO), or anyone else wearing purple and white—the end result was the same. To drive home the point: after scoring 12 points in the first four minutes of the game, the team managed just five more in the remaining 16 minutes before halftime.
With all of the Wildcats’ woes, Radford was simply allowed to play catch-up. Appearing much more poised as time went on, the Highlanders utilized two three-pointers by their leading scorer, Carlik Jones (20 pts, 4 reb, 7 ast), to gain and then build on their lead. He later made another shot to finish with eight points for the half.
Radford didn’t need to shoot particularly great during the stretch, as Northwestern wasn’t in the business of responding. Heading into halftime, Radford had taken a 31-17 lead, and the Wildcats were made underdogs in their own home.
“I thought we took some bad shots,” said head coach Chris Collins about their first half problems. “I thought their quickness got into us a little bit.”
Out of the break, a welcome start that cut Northwestern’s deficit down to single digits was sadly too brief to make a lasting difference. A mix of poor (but not tragically bad) shooting, both on the active court and in free throws, and a heaping of Highlander threes added to Radford’s lead. While Northwestern cut down on the first-half turnovers (from 8 to 2), so did the visitors (from 8 to 4).
With the Wildcats down by 21 with seven minutes left, the game could’ve been all but secured for the Highlanders. But a late spell of empty Radford offense, coupled with Highlander fouls and successful Northwestern free throws, inspired some unexpected promise.
An 11-0 run took the ’Cats to within 10 with two and a half minutes left, and the crowd was at its liveliest since the game’s early moments. But Radford did its best to waste time on its offensive possessions, and the game clock kept wearing down on the team.
Ultimately Northwestern had to resort to fouling in the hopes of catching a break with missed Radford free throws (and getting two of them), but the Highlanders recovered. They brought an eight-point lead back into low double digits with successful shooting from the charity stripe, making the comeback an impossible feat.
The Wildcats’ late points between Radford’s free throw attempts, including two Boo Buie (4 pts, 2 TO) layups, ended up not meaning much. After a second disappointing loss, Collins emphasized the earliness of the season and the inexperience of the team.
“Are we disappointed in what happened tonight? Absolutely,” he said. “Did we play very well tonight? Not really. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board, and we’ve got to get better. Hopefully as we keep playing, we improve.”
“It’s super early,” said Kopp about the season. “Sometimes it’s hard to realize there’s a lot to learn, and a lot of room to grow. I think with this team, we definitely have a lot of time to improve and grow and learn. Really every day, that’s what we do.”
Game stats and details collected from StatBroadcast