EVANSTON-You know those games when a player is in the zone? When any shot he takes seems like it is headed straight for the bottom of the net? When anything the defense tries ends in broken ankles and a roar from the crowd?
Drew Crawford did not have that kind of night. Neither did Jared Swopshire. Those two senior starters finished a combined 1-of-14 shooting in Northwestern's 74-65 loss to Butler on Saturday night.
Crawford, who finished with six points, didn't hit his first field goal of the night until just 9:38 remained in the game and finished 1-for-8. Swopshire, who tallied just three points, never did make a basket, missing all six of his attempts.
It got to the point that Crawford launched a three-point attempt with less than a minute left that found the side of the backboard instead of nylon.
"We were just having a very hard time scoring," head coach Bill Carmody said.
Despite sophomore Dave Sobolewski's season-high 21 points, the lack of offensive production from Crawford and Swopshire was too much to overcome and made Tuesday's impressive win over Baylor seem like a distant memory.
No matter how well Sobolewski played on Saturday night before fouling out with 5:10 left, and regardless of the success of Reggie Hearn, who contributed 13 points, six rebounds and two steals, it's clear this team cannot and will not play into March without greater contributions from its seniors.
"The staff has to find out how to get [Crawford and Swopshire] into our offense," Carmody said.
Carmody doubts the notion that Crawford is crumbling under increased pressure and remained pleased about several aspects of his star's game.
"Maybe we're putting too much pressure on him," said Carmody. "He's been a streaky shooter [throughout his career], but again I thought he was driving the ball pretty nicely tonight."
Swopshire, however, appeared lost and lifeless on several different occasions. He seemed content to pass the ball without even considering a shot, which was strikingly similar to previous games. In 84 combined minutes in Northwestern's losses against Maryland, UIC and Butler, Swopshire has scored only seven total points.
"It's a continuing kinda thing," Carmody said. "We're trying to get [Swopshire] to go from being a role player at Louisville. He doesn't have to have 20, but you know, can you get 10, 12 points?"
While Carmody will continue to hope for an increased scoring output from Crawford and Swopshire, Sobolewski insists his teammates will be fine.
"There was nothing wrong with their shot selection, they just weren't falling," he said.
But in the Princeton Offense, it can often be difficult for a shooter to find the spark he needs to break out of a slump. Sobolewski spoke Saturday night about how his own points were simply a byproduct of the system. He did not change the way he played the game, he said, nor did he feel the need to compensate for his struggling teammates.
"Our offense isn't meant to break out of it whenever you feel like being aggressive," he said, vehemently disagreeing with the notion that Crawford and Swopshire must take more shots to be successful.
"Drew will be okay. Obviously it's great for us when Drew is playing well. But even with a down night, we were within a couple plays of winning the game," he said.
Still, the offensive stagnation, particularly in the second half, leaves plenty of reason for concern.
Sobolewski often seemed like the only offensive weapon for the Wildcats. Only two other Northwestern players scored in double figures, and the remaining four starters combined to shoot an abysmal 6-of-32 (18.8 percent) from the floor.
Although Tre Demps looked impressive off the bench, notching 15 points, Carmody was quick to point out that 13 of Demps' points came in the last three minutes, after the game had largely been decided and when missed shots don't matter as much.
In all, Sobolewski and Demps accounted for 55 percent of Northwestern's total offense.
If Northwestern is to make its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament this season, it cannot afford to have two major contributors like Crawford and Swopshire go AWOL. They were the top two scorers against Baylor, combining for 31 points. Against Butler five nights later, they were non-factors.
Sobolewski refuses to admit, however, that this team cannot win without Crawford, and he stressed the importance of team basketball.
"[Drew]'s a huge part of our team and he's a huge part of what we do day-in and day-out," he said, "but we have to find a way to win when he's not playing his best. Everybody goes through ups-and-downs in a season. We just have to find a way to win whenever… anybody doesn't have one of their best nights."
Despite Sobolewski's claims, the team better hope Crawford and Swopshire quickly learn to elevate their games on a consistent basis.
Saturday night's loss to Butler does not render this a hopeless season. But without increased offensive outputs from two supposed offensive stars, it may be one of the first steps on the road to the NIT.