Cats drop Big Ten opener to Purdue
With five players seeing their first Big Ten action against a team that just beat Virginia by 29 points in a building where Northwestern has lost six times in a row, hopes were not high for the Wildcats in their conference opener at Purdue's Mackey Arena.
Northwestern's defensive effort may have been up to the task, but shooting just 34% ultimately sunk the Wildcats as they fell to the Boilermakers, 58-44.
Pete Nance, who had a breakout performance, lead the way for the Cats with 14 points and 6 rebounds. He was the only Wildcat in double-figures.
Purdue, on the other hand, had a balanced scoring effort, with all five starters with 8 or more points, led by Sasha Stefanovic with 14.
The first half was ugly, with both teams shooting less than 31% from the field and combining for 38 points. Nance started the game hot with two straight pick-and-pop 3-pointers from the top of the arch to jump out to a 6-2 lead. Purdue responded with a 9-0 run, and with 9:25 left in the first half, the Boilermakers led 13-9. The remainder of the first half was a slog as Purdue went to the locker room leading 22-16.
The second half saw Purdue continuing to build upon their lead. NU’s offense couldn't mount any momentum and Purdue jumped out to a 45-31 lead with 7:21 left in the game. A Miller Kopp 3-point shot brought the Wildcats to within 7 with 4:01 left, but Purdue took control and finished with a comfortable victory.
Here are our takeaways from a loss that evened Northwestern's record to 4-4 overall, and 0-1 in the Big Ten:
The Big Ten season is gonna be a dog fight: Northwestern’s defense stepped up against their best opponent of the young season in Purdue. They held the Boilermakers to 39% shooting from the field and an atrocious 5-22 from the 3-point line.
Despite their defensive effort, the offense struggled mightily, shooting 34% from the field. It was a game that resembled a game that one of head coach Chris Collins' early Northwestern teams might have played, where they fought hard on every defensive possession and scraped for any offensive points on the other end.
Turning games into dog fights is going to be Northwestern’s only way to find consistent success in conference play.
Pete Nance is Northwestern’s best player: Nance was the lone bright spot on offense in an otherwise hard-to-watch game.
He was the only player on the court for NU that could create scoring opportunities for himself. And he shot an efficient 6-for-12 from the field, while the rest of the team was 12-for-41 (29.3%). What's more, Nance was able to continue his effectiveness despite Purdue making adjustments to limit his opportunities.
Nance will need be the focal point of the offensive for the rest of conference play. To improve, he should focus on higher-percentage shots in the post, or in the mid-range. Seven of his 12 shots were 3-pointers tonight, and he only made the two in a row to start the game.
Pat Spencer wasn’t prepared for Big Ten play: The graduate transfer and former lacrosse player has never been in a Big Ten game, with that level of atmosphere or defensive pressure, and it showed.
The Wildcats' starting lead guard struggled to handle regular point-guard duties with three turnovers early in the game. He finished with zero points (0-for-4) and looked a step slow to the speed of the game throughout (two fouls).
Spencer is going to have to rebound quickly and raise his game for Northwestern to be consistently competitive in conference play.
Gaines and Turner passive in a stagnant offense looking for answers: Coming into the season, many believed that AJ Turner and Anthony Gaines were going to have to carry the Northwestern offense throughout the season. Thus far though, they have let Nance, Miller Kopp and Pat Spencer take more prominent roles.
But with terrible shooting performances against Pittsburgh and Purdue in two of their last three outings, it's time for the upperclassmen to take more control of games offensively. Against the Boilers, Gaines went 0-for-3 from the floor and failed to score, while Turner hit just one of his four shots, a 3-pointer.